Friday, December 28, 2018

Transactional Friends

I've been thinking, lately, about the nature of friendships and how they evolve. I'll begin by acknowledging that friendship relationships do change and evolve over time - I'd bet that very few of us have the same closest friends at the end of our lives than we did at the beginning. Even when moving the starting line up to a more stable age - say, 25 years old - the closest friends we had then are not the same as they are at 50 or 75 or older. That's just the way life seems to go, at least in this day and age. If we have one or two friends that close over that many years, it is rare indeed. It is why, I believe, couples who are married that long are in fact each other's closest (or best) friend.

Granting all that, there are other friendships that seem to come and go much faster. While the time frame for closeness to develop is still measured not in weeks or months, but years, they are still, relative to a lifetime of years, a "flash in the pan." The develop, get "real," and fade away in a matter of five, maybe 10 years. I'm not talking about the kinds of friends who become distant due to other circumstances (geography, often), but remain close no matter what. I have a few old friends with whom I do not speak with regularly or see often, but are still just as close. I'm talking about those that seem to just dissolve. I've experienced some of that dissolution of late and I am somewhat confused as to why.

We all grow and change throughout our lives, but if we are authentic, we are still essentially the same person we have always been. There are, of course, some huge exceptions to that generality, and the process of recovery from addiction/alcoholism and many other destructive "isms," disorders, diseases and the like can result in tremendous change in who we are. That is my story and it is the story so many I know, many of whom are friends... or were.

                  This is where it gets a little sticky. Have I changed? Or have they? Or is it something else. I believe that since five years clean (probably longer), I am essentially the same person. In fact, I'd say that "deep down" I always have been, but the drugs presented a different person when judged by my actions. Fair enough, but that cloak has been gone a long time now. It has been around 10 years now that what you see is what you get. It is easily long enough to say reliability and consistency is among those things that defines who I am.

                  I'd also recognize that everyone comes with a different history and everyone's path is different. I have heard words to the effect among some people that they have "outgrown" others, that they are on a different (higher) spiritual plane. Perhaps that is true. Maybe I got stuck in the spiritual gutter, spinning my spiritual wheels and watching the nonjudgemental spiritual high-roaders grade my spirituality (or lack thereof) through inclusion and exclusion. Pretty fucking spiritual, huh?

                  Anyway, file this rant under the "if the shoe fits, lace that bitch up and wear it" category. If it does not, it's not about you. No judgements here (a lie, of course, but at least I'm aware of and honest about it). I'm just living my life. I don't have time for "transactional" friends.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Moments, Part Deux

There was a short but distinct period of time in my life that began a few months before this picture and ended about five years ago. There were many moments where it looked good, and in certain respects it was good, but an underlying reality, an "alternate truth" was still hiding in the shadows. All relationships are built on trust and the one I was in had none. It was only a matter of time before it would crumble and fall.
Even at this early time seven years ago, the signs were there. But I was committed, convinced that we had "love" and that love would conquer all. Stupid clich├ęs like "love is all you need," would drive my commitment forward long past the numerous and less painful exits along the way. I am here to say, in no uncertain terms, that love is not now nor has it ever been enough. Without trust, respect, selflessness, empathy, compassion, concern and a host of other very real principles, love cannot work its magic.
My family and my friends - everyone - recognized the signs. I did, too, but I hung on to that stupid rationalization that love would save the day. Everyone included me, but I ignored the signs until way later in the game. Yes, game, because love without all that other stuff is a game complete with winners and losers. But even though they all saw what I justified away, everyone stuck with me. It is as though they were putting their faith into this idea that love was enough, too. And, it is romantic, right? Everyone loves a good love story - the beating of all odds so that in the end two "soul mates" find each other in each other. Please...
It doesn't work that way. Love takes work and it takes a certain level of character such that the partners can absolutely, without question count on each other. Love, like life itself, is not a game.
Today, and for some time now, I have that relationship in which we trust each other implicitly. Christine is not only my lover, she is also my partner and my best friend. We do not "complete" each other, we don't even "need" each other. Each of us is perfectly capable of navigating life without a partner. However, we found each other when we were each ready, each with our past experiences, past failures and lessons that, for us, apparently, had to be learned the hard way. The benefits of embarking on this journey together midway through our lives are numerous; perhaps the most profound is that any sense of urgency to get or be somewhere is not in the equation. We are, very much, living in the moment.
I was leery. I'm pretty sure my family and friends were, too. After what happened last time, what was I thinking? Well, simply, the answer is that, more than anything else, this time I was thinking. Maybe too much, but I had to be sure. One of Christine's favorite stories is about our first coffee date and how long it took us (me) to get to just that. It is true, I was not at all sure I wanted to get messed up in another relationship and I already knew that I liked her. We have much in common, we see the world in a very similar way and as that first date turned into many more, I learned that we have those characteristics necessary for love to succeed. And while everything else can be developed, my experience is that love itself cannot be "created." It is either there or it is not.
But it is also not enough. So, with all my analytical powers, along with the love came to be, I cautiously entered into this relationship. She says she was sure before I was, but she also did "investigate" me. She asked our mutual friends about me, about my character. Although we approached it in different ways, we both did our due diligence. We both had to be sure. And to this very day, we are in no hurry. We are living in the moment. This picture of my three boys playing ball on Christmas Eve seven years ago epitomizes that. While the storm was coming, at that moment, all was perfect. Today, that perfection is much more than momentary.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Inevitible Inequities

I don’t use this new/old keyboard often. However, I do break it out when I am going to do some writing. Not just any writing, but the kind of writing that is spawned from a concerted effort to get my thoughts out, to put them down on paper, even if it is paper’s virtual equivalent and typed out on a retro Bluetooth keyboard. Real writing that comes from a very distinct, yet ethereal place. It is the kind of writing I once made space for regularly; once a habit, a hobby, a pastime, it is now more often intention without realization. Thoughts that are worth exploring get put aside to sometime later that will never come. They evaporate back into the fog, never taking the same form again.

I write about all sorts of things all the time. I am usually “prompted” by something, some stimulus. Often, probably too often, it is in the form of an interjection on a Facebook post or, also often, some “controversial” post of my own. These things are usually in response to something else, and more often than not that something else has to do with politics, government or societal structures. While important topics to be sure, the platform does not lend itself to any really deep discussion, though I do try. Typically, however, if comments and/or posts are longer than a typical “soundbite,” they are ignored.

This piece will be placed on my blog, The 25 Year Plan, as my 11th post this year. Considering I posted 158 and 132 posts in 2006 and 2007, respectively, this is a very low number. However, compared to the last five years, it is about average and, compared to 2012 (just six entries), it is a banner year. That was an interesting year, and not in a good way, though there were some good moments. This blog, this online journal of “Perspective, Purpose and Opinion” celebrated its 13th birthday two days ago. I knew I started it around this time of year, but I did not realize until just now that my “blogoversary” had passed. In most of those 13 years, I have written some sort of year-end reflection. It has taken different forms over the years, and some years – like 2012 – there was none, but a quick review of my reviews has proven somewhat profound.

When I started this thing, I was just emerging from a pretty dark place in my life. In December, 2005, I had just a little more than one year clean from all mind and mood affecting drugs – alcohol included. I was back in school, doing better than I ever had and life was good. Just a year prior, though I had no desire to write about my life and no blog to post it in anyway, I remember where I was – clean just a few months and freshly out of jail, again. I had pissed away nine months of clean-time (and success) the year before and was, one more time, in the early phases of recovery. Things were not going well, life was not very rosy and I came very close to going back to what I knew would make me not care. I was at “Fuck This!” many times and on New Year’s Eve of 2004, all by myself and alone in the world, I came very close to going back to the devil I knew.

But I did not get any drugs and I did not drink. I went home and went to bed hating my life. From August 2004 to that day, there was not a single day that was “good.” I was surviving and I was doing it without any drugs to numb the pain and make me not care. Sometime in the beginning of 2005, things started to change. I went back to school at the local community college and managed to accomplish some things. By the time my one-year clean anniversary came around, I was a junior at the California State University, Sacramento and on my way to earning a BA in government-journalism. And I was writing – a lot. Eventually, an internship at a local newspaper gave me the opportunity to get reacquainted with a talent I’d abandoned more than 20 years prior. I was writing a lot and taking my camera everywhere I went.

And I was staying clean. All the success that had eluded me for years and years, success I knew I was able to achieve, but just couldn’t, was finally coming. For the longest time I was waiting for the other show to drop. I mean, it had to – the bottom always fell out from under me. It was my curse, or so I thought. However, after a few years that were my “best year ever,” I started to believe that the curse was lifted along with my drug use. Indeed, I started to recognize that they were one and the same. True, there were ups and downs and unexpected challenges, the inevitable inequities of life popped up from time to time, but never was anything enough to derail me. I was on a roll…

But despite my good fortune and the work I had done to make all that happen, I am still capable of making bad decisions. In 2012 I made one of the worst decisions (though, still not the worst) of my life. The fallout from it would be prevalent and palpable for at least two or three years. In some respects, it is still falling out, but on a day-to-day basis, it is nothing but occasional and infrequent background noise. However, my 2013 and 2014 were decidedly not my “best year ever.” The other shoe, it would appear, had dropped. But the blow did not derail me. I had, by that point, built a foundation that could weather that and other storms. Did I take a hit? Damned right I did, but I was not a victim – I was solely responsible for the foreseeable and foreseen predicament I found myself in.

By the end of 2015 I was 11 yeas clean, had earned my Bachelor of Arts and my Master of Arts at CSUS and was a doctoral candidate – a dissertation away - from a PhD at Louisiana State University. For reasons that cannot be easily quantified, I never did that dissertation and left LSU with another MA. Failure, to be sure, but a failure that saw a lot of success along the way. I made the final decision to abandon the PhD before my coursework for another MA “timed-out.” I knew there would be times that I’d regret that decision, and I have, but I am also in a place in my life that is supremely satisfying. Hindsight has shown it was and is still the right decision for me. That mistake in 2012 was an ill-fated and short-lived marriage and it surely played a part, but there was much more than just that. And while I do not believe in “destiny,” or any other preordained reality, I do believe that I gravitated to what serves me best. Part of what I thought that would look like is being single for the rest of my life. I not only accepted that reality, I liked it.

That did not come to pass, however, and my current relationship – now more than two years old – is far and away the healthiest relationship I have ever been in. Christine and I have been living together – along with some of our kids – for six months. Amazing as it sounds (even to me, still), there have been no problems. We have been hit with some of the inevitable inequities of life, but we have adapted and persevered. Most recently, my youngest son was involved in a very serious motorcycle wreck, one he is still rehabilitating from – and that is a situation that will be ongoing for some time to come. We are dealing with it. My girlfriend’s youngest daughter is autistic – and brilliant. She is getting ready to go to college and Christine is a little stressed. And we are dealing with it.

While Christine has her life and I have mine – and our kids have theirs, too – we are also now part of the great big same thing and we do that together. Even with all the inequities… this year has been a very good year. And we are dealing with that, too.