AA

January 22nd, 2020

“One day at a time, sweet Jesus. Whoever wrote that one hadn’t a clue. A day is a fuckin’ eternity”
― Roddy Doyle, Paula Spencer

Alcoholism.

Drug addiction.

All that bad shit.

And here we are.

I took the young woman to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous yesterday. I take her to a meeting almost every day. I dropped her off at a small Lutheran church in our hometown. The meetings generally last for an hour. I came back for her, and I waited in the parking lot for her group to finish. I stared at the church. I know it well.

I went to AA meetings there twenty-eight years ago.

Twenty-eight years ago I was a mess, an even bigger mess than I am now. I was drinking all the time, and I was out of control. My wife wanted to leave me. Things were bad.

I asked one of my uncles to take me to AA meetings. He did. He had started going to them back n 1985, and he has been sober ever since. I guess he qualifies as a success story, but I’ll get back to that topic some other time. In any case, I went meetings at least three times a week, every week, for about six months. I was involved with three or four different groups. I really tried to follow the program. I wanted to change my life.

I got a sponsor. A sponsor like a mentor in AA. This a person who has a history of sobriety, and is willing to guide a newbie along that same path. Choosing a sponsor requires a high level of courage and trust on the part of the person who is just starting to get sober. Basically, the person who is just beginning with AA puts his or her life into the hands of a totally stranger. The sponsor can and will order their protege to do certain things. In return, the sponsor promises to be there to help their AA apprentice when things go bad, and things invariably do go bad.

Things went bad for me. I was working third shift at a trucking company, running a complicated dock operation all on my own. It was a remarkably stressful job, and I slept poorly. Karin and I had two small children at home. Karin’s parents came to visit us from Germany, and they brought along Karin’s young niece. This should have been a thoroughly pleasant experience, but it wasn’t.

Remember that this is back in 1992. This all occurred when people only had landline phones. There was no caller ID. It happened that the niece’s mother kept calling to check on her little girl. The woman called from Germany every five minutes for hours on end. We could have unplugged the phone, but I had to be available if somebody from work wanted to contact me. So I listened to the phone ring at all hours of the day and night. I couldn’t sleep, and I was ready to have a meltdown.

My sponsor was a guy who had been sober for ten years or so. He was a very active in one of the AA groups that I attended. He was a take charge kind of guy. He was kind of flashy; he liked his bling. I asked him to be my sponsor. He agreed and he immediately gave me a set of rules to follow. He made it clear that he was a busy man, and that he wasn’t going to babysit me. He told me to call him if I was in trouble, but only to call him when I was sober. He didn’t want to risk his own sobriety by talking on the phone with a drunk. I said okay. I only called him one time, and that was when I was in trouble.

I finally called my sponsor after the endless phone calls from a psychotic mother in Germany got to be too much for me to handle. I told him what was happening. I can remember his response as if he had spoken to me just yesterday. He sighed and said,

“You know, I don’t think we are good match. I can’t really help you. You need to find somebody else.”

Then he hung up on me.

I went to meetings. I remember going to three of them in a row. I told my story at each of the meetings, and at each of them somebody pulled me aside and told me that my problem was not an appropriate topic for the group. They wanted to talk about alcohol, and only alcohol. I said that all this stress was going to end my sobriety. I was told to tell my sponsor about my issue. I replied that I no longer had one. I was told to find another.

One person actually laughed and told me, “Looks like you need another meeting!”

Fuck all you guys.

I had been led to believe that the people in the AA meetings cared about me. I was led to believe that the people in these groups were somehow more spiritually advanced than the general population. I believed that these people were there for me.

I was wrong.

The people at AA meetings were just people like everyone else. They were no better and no worse. A few folks really did care about me, and I am grateful to them. Most of the people were friendly enough, but they were wrapped up in their own problems as much as I was wrapped up in mine. We had no real connection. We had no real relationship. They were not my friends, not at all.

AA is founded on trust. A person can only work the program if they can trust the other people there. That is one reason the it is called “Alcoholics Anonymous”. The Anonymous part is there to make people feel safe. I didn’t feel safe any more at the meetings, and I did not trust anybody any more. I felt betrayed, and I still feel that way. It was like looking behind the curtain and finding out that the Wizard of Oz was just another schlep like me.

AA obviously works for a lot of people. I am praying that it works for the young woman I know. I want her to get healthy and stay healthy. At this point, I will go along with anything she wants to do, as long as it saves her life.

I have often thought about going into a meeting with her. I have concluded that would be a bad idea. First of all, she would not want me to be in the same room with her. More importantly, I would not be helpful to anyone there. I don’t believe in the program, and I would say so. AA has some of the aspects of a cult. You never question the program. Ever. You buy the entire package or you leave.

I left a long time ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjust and Adapt

January 20th, 2020

It’s been exactly two weeks since the girl got out of prison. It seems like a helluva lot longer than that. I knew beforehand that she would rock my world. That was a given. I just didn’t know how, or when, or why.

That first Monday was brutal. It started with me picking the young woman up at Ellsworth Prison at 7:00 AM. Eight hours later she relapsed. Catastrophic failure. Then there was a series of frantic phone calls to her parole officer, a trip to an ER, and general chaos. We both made it through that day, although I honestly don’t know how we did it. It all ended with Dove bars and Netflix. It could have been much worse.

I think that we were both a bit traumatized for the next few days. We functioned, sort of. On Thursday, Butch, the PO, came to our house with his loyal assistant to do a “home visit”. That went okay. Being a veteran, I established a little bit of credibility with Mr. Butcher.

Time goes on. Because my wife is away, it’s just me taking care of the girl that we love. We are slowly establishing a new relationship. This all takes time.

The last few days have been much better. The young woman has set up a plan to get her life together. She is actively doing things to change her situation. She works out at the gym. She goes everyday to 12-step meetings. She sees a therapist. The young woman goes out with sober friends. She wants to do all the right things. She wants to live. 

The girl told me, “I want to get my head straight before I start looking for a job. I want my mental health stuff to be set up first.”

I wholeheartedly concur with that. We have been spinning together in this dance for over a decade now. Pushing her too hard and too early guarantees failure. This young woman has been though a lot, more than most other humans. She needs to work hard on rebuilding her life, but she also needs to rest when it is necessary. We have time.

I was just re-reading Dracula from Bram Stoker. That book is all about addiction and madness and redemption. It was the right to time to read it again.

Right now, my life revolves around her life. My schedule is her schedule. It won’t be like that forever, but it is now. This is a life and death struggle. I don’t exaggerate. She needs me now. Later, if there is a later, maybe not so much. This young woman needs to heal. She has deep wounds, and they are physical, emotional, and spiritual. Our house is her field hospital for now.

How does this all end? I have no idea. In a way, it doesn’t matter. The ending is not my concern. The girl’s destiny is up to God, not me.

I can only help.

 

 

 

 

Advice

January 18th, 2020

The week before Christmas, a few of us met at Andrea’s house for a party. It was Liz’s idea, and it was a good one. Everybody there was from our old German Bible study, so the gathering was about as wild as an AA meeting. I didn’t mind. I just wanted to hang out for a while and talk. Liz wanted us all to sing German Christmas carols. We did so, with some reluctance. Honestly, I have never been to a Christmas party where people actually wanted to sing carols. We did so out of a skewed sense of Teutonic duty, and a feeling of gratitude toward Liz.

Once the out-of-tune caroling was done,  we sat around and snacked for a while. I sat at the living room table with Ed and Rob. They are both very interesting men, so perhaps I should describe them in more detail.

Rob is in some ways a modern Renaissance man. Rob is brilliant, and he has an interest in almost everything. He was trained as an engineer, and then he became a physician. He just retired from his job as an emergency room doctor at the local VA hospital. Rob hates retirement, with a passion. I don’t really understand that. Retirement is a gift from God. Seriously. Most of the people on this planet will never retire. They will work until they die. Those of us who are retired owe the rest of the world something of our lives. We, few though that we are, have the time and money and health to make a small difference in the world. We have been given a second chance in life. So, I don’t really get why Rob is so averse to his current situation. I would have thought that he would be rejoicing in his new status.

Ed is a wonderful man. He is at least eighty now. His life story is fascinating. He spent his early days in Wuppertal in post-war Germany. Ed’s father had been a German soldier in World War II. The man was Russian prisoner of war until 1955. Ed’s father came back home alive, but in many ways he was ruined. Ed’s father told his son never to go to war. Ed took that to heart. Ed is a strict Bible-thumping Baptist, but he is also a serious pacifist. I have to admire that. Ed has an integrity that is impressive. He is an honorable man, and he has a big heart.

The three of us got to talking about children. I told them about the struggles that my kids face.

Ed said, “You should give them some guidance. Share what you have learned in life.”

I looked at Ed, and then I told him, “I have given up on giving advice.”

He seemed confused by that. He asked me, “Why?”

I told Ed, “Giving advice is counter-productive.”

Rob chimed in, “It can also be dangerous.”

Ed didn’t understand that at all. “What do you mean? You are the parents.”

I sighed. “It’s the message as opposed to the messenger. My kids don’t mind the message. They just don’t want to hear it from me.”

Ed replied, “But they should respect you.”

“They do, but they also want to do it all on their own.”

Ed shook his head.

I really don’t think life was much different when Ed was young. I think he only remembers certain parts of it. Each generation tries to reinvent the wheel. Somehow it always works out the same way. Human nature doesn’t change.

By the way, I love the Book of Genesis. Yes, some of the passages seem like silly fables. However, most of the stories are honest descriptions of dysfunctional families that somehow survived and kept going. The stories in Genesis are just as timely as anything in the daily news. These events in the Bible could be happening now, and they probably are.

I look at our kids, and I don’t see the future. I see the past. I look at Hans and his deep emotional scars from the war in Iraq, and all I can see is his grandfather, Max, who fought on the Russian front in WWII. I look at Stefan and his valiant efforts to be a “Working Class Hero”, but I only see my grandfather, and his endless struggles during the union strikes of the Depression. There are echoes.

Advice is a gift that nobody really wants. In truth, advice is of limited value. My memories may bear some slight resemblance to the experiences of my children, but there is a disconnect. Times change. People change. It is true that some basic things in human life remain constant, but those things are slippery and elusive. Some things cannot be taught. Some things cannot be learned vicariously. Some things can only be experienced.

I believe that most people, including my children, already know what to do. They only need to articulate these ideas and then act upon them. They don’t need me to give advice. They don’t need me to talk. They need me to listen. Just listen. I may agree with a comment they make, or I may encourage them when they suggest something positive, but I don’t give advice. I let them find their path, even though that path is twisted and tortuous. They have to do it. I cannot do it for them.

Nobody could do it for me either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alone Time

January 13th, 2020

I am slowly starting to understand some of the difficulties involved with the transition from prison to the outside world. I have not been to prison myself, but somebody close to me has. She is out now, and things are really interesting.

The girl and I were talking one day, and I mentioned that I didn’t want her to stay holed up in her room all the time.

She gave me a cold stare and said, “I’m not planning on isolating myself. You know, I haven’t had any “alone time” for the last nine months. I was never by myself.”

Oh.

I hadn’t thought about that. She’s right. The young woman was totally without any privacy for most of a year. How did that affect her? How would that affect me?

I have been thinking back on my time at West Point, forty years ago. Both prison and the military academy share some unfortunate similarities. When I was at West Point, “alone time” was scarce. I was almost always with somebody else. Privacy was an alien concept. I was being observed by somebody (classmates, instructors, tactical officers, etc.) constantly. I remember how weird it felt once I graduated and became an officer. Suddenly, I had a place of my own, and it took me a while to adapt to being by myself.

The young woman has told me more than once that being “on the outside” is stressful for her. She has been in an environment where she has not been able to make any decisions on her own. Once again, this much like being in the military. Every day somebody told her what to wear, what to eat, where to go, what work to do, and when to sleep. In short, she really had no need to think. Now she does needs to do that. She has to take control of her life, and her skills for do that have atrophied during the last several months.

I really don’t understand the logic behind throwing people into prison. I am aware that some people (e.g. ax murderers and the like) need to be locked up for the safety of the general public. However, persons who have committed nonviolent crimes (many of whom have mental health issues) are also in prison, and that might not be the best place for them. Think of it this way: Why put a group of felons together in the same place for an extended period of time? What will they actually learn from each other?  The odds are good that they will all trade notes and become more competent criminals. If the goal of prison is rehabilitation ( and it isn’t), then it would make more sense to put offenders in an environment filled with law-abiding people. That means placing offenders with people on the “outside”. We usually refuse to do that. We want to punish them.

This particular situation will require me to learn patience. I have never been good at that. This young woman needs time to get a grip on the next chapter in her life, and I need to give her enough time. I don’t know what is all going on in her head. I’m not sure that I even want to know. I do know that some things cannot be forced. The girl’s new identity as a free person will emerge in due time. I don’t know how long that will take. I can’t know. I don’t need to know.

I am supposed to learn a lesson from all of this. Once again, God is trying to teach me something. I wish He/She would stop do that.

Oh well, today was a good day. Maybe I have learned something from that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butch

January 9th, 2020

Mr. Butcher arrived at our house for a “home visit” this morning. Mr. Butcher is a parole officer for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. I always think of him as “Butch”. He looks like a “Butch”. He is a big, heavyset guy with a crew cut. He could easily pass for a bouncer, or an assistant football coach at some high school in the north country.

Butch brought his partner along, a woman named Jenny. Jenny is also with the Department of Corrections (DOC). She has that hard look that says quite clearly, “Don’t even think about fucking with me.” I don’t recall her smiling even once during the visit. However, she is a dog lover, so she can’t be all bad.

Jenny glanced at me with suspicion. I don’t really blame her. I don’t have an appearance that necessarily inspires confidence. People often assume that I am either a burned out Harley rider or a Muslim terrorist. I have a ridiculously long beard with dreads in it. Karin says that it makes me look like an old Jew. In any case, people usually don’t have a favorable first impression of me.

Butch and Jenny came to see the young woman who is currently staying in our home. I had thought that the home visit would entail an inspection of some sort. It did not. Butch spent most of the visit explaining to the young woman about the portable breathalyzer that he had brought along for her to use.

The breathalyzer is actually a cool device. It is compact, small enough to fit into a purse. A person blows into the device, and it simultaneously takes a photo of the blower. The breathalyzer then immediately sends a message to the DOC. The message is either “I’m clean” or “Come arrest me”. The girl needs to blow into it four times a day. As a convenience, she receives texts on her phone to remind her to blow into the machine. Technology is amazing.

Butch asked the young woman how she’s doing, and if she is getting some support. She is. He spoke to her about how to deal with relapses. He made a point of telling her to open and honest when there is a relapse, so that she can get help.

I mentioned that I do not want this girl to go back to jail and/or prison. Jenny remarked that they are court ordered to ensure the public safety, and that some actions might require incarceration. I told her that I understand that, but I also know that prison did this young woman no good whatsoever. Jenny and Butch fell back on the fact that whatever happens is dependent on the actions of this girl. They are just going to do their jobs.

Butch gently told the young woman to be amenable to me checking her bags for contraband, if we go shopping. The girl nodded. I piped up,

“I don’t want to check her bags. I want to trust her.”

This sort of thing is a sore point with me. I don’t want to be a CBP agent for my own home. Drug interdiction seldom works. I have no intention of searching her for stuff she shouldn’t have. That’s a loser’s game.

It is also something that harks back to my youth. I grew up in a home utterly lacking in trust. My father was a raving paranoid. He was always interrogating his kids, and always accusing us of various illegal and/or immoral activities. The vast majority of the time he was way off base. However his chronic mistrust of damn near everybody poisoned our relationships. People will meet your expectations, good or bad. Why try to do the right thing if somebody is constantly assuming that you are doing something wrong? I would rather trust somebody and get burned, than not trust at all.

Butch gave the girl a note with the time and date of her next appointment at his office. Jenny petted the the girl’s border collie. Then they got ready to leave.

On his way out, Butch noticed my old Army footlocker. It has my name and rank stenciled on it: “2LT Francis K. Pauc”.

Butch turned to me, and asked, “Second lieutenant, huh?”

“Yeah, that was a long time ago.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, I went to West Point.”

“Really? That’s impressive.”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“So, you were in the Army?”

“Yeah, I flew helicopters.”

Butch smiled, “Cool.”

I may have established some street cred with Butch. I hope so. I made need it sometime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anything Can Happen

January 8th, 2020

I had to pick her up at 7:00 AM on Monday. I didn’t dare be late. It is unwise to keep someone waiting when they are getting out of prison.

I arrived at the prison a little early. It was cold and dark. I brought along her dog, her phone, (fully charged), her winter coat, and a can of Red Bull.

The girl was the one who actually was a bit late. It wasn’t her fault. A prison is a bureaucracy like any other. There is no rushing the process of getting released. I had a chance to talk with the guard for a while. He was a good guy. He didn’t like the prison system, but he needed a paycheck. He told me that the best part of his job was releasing an inmate. That was the one procedure that he enjoyed.

She finally showed up, carrying two boxes of belongings. I took one of them from her.

As we headed to the door, the guard waved and smiled. He called out,

“Stay out of trouble now!”

The sun was rising as we walked to the car. I thought that it might be a good omen. A new day. A new start.

The girl sat up front with her dog, Shocky. She played with her phone. It had nine months of updates to process. That took a while. She drank her Red Bull. She kept changing radio stations. She was in sensory overload. After nine months in the slammer, it was all too much.

Once we got to the house, she spent most of her time in the bathroom. I didn’t see her for a couple of hours. The girl was working on her appearance in ways that she had not been able to do for months. Once she did come out of the bathroom, she looked wonderful.

She had to meet with her parole officer for the first time that afternoon. I dropped her off at his office. Her interview with him did not last for very long. We went across the street to a Mexican restaurant for lunch. Neither of us was very hungry, so we both took boxes home. On the way back, she wanted to buy a couple things at Target. We stopped there, and she went in by herself.

The girl went into her bedroom once we got home. I was tired, so I laid down for a while. Then I heard odd noises coming from her bedroom. I reluctantly went there to investigate. I opened her door. The girl was sitting on the floor.

She was high.

I asked her, “Are you using?”

She shook her head, but her eyes were wild. She grinned and said,

“Look at my new leggings!”

I saw a can of keyboard cleaner on top of her bed. I took it with me and walked out the door. I threw it in the trash and sat down.

Now what do I do?

I heard twisted laughter coming from the girl’s room. I got up, and walked over there.

She was still sitting on the floor. She was holding another can of keyboard cleaner, and she was actively huffing its contents. I had never seen a person getting high like that before. It was ugly. Apparently, keyboard cleaner fucks a person up instantaneously. Alcohol takes a little time. This stuff…no wait required.

She saw me standing in the doorway. She looked away and handed me the can. Then she cried.

I walked out, and threw the second can away. Then I called her parole officer.

I asked him what I should do. He really didn’t have a clear answer. He definitely didn’t want to get the police involved. She had not done anything that was actually illegal. He wanted her to stay out of jail/prison. I wanted that too. He asked me if I could convince the young woman to go voluntarily to an emergency room, or to the Dewey Center for a psych exam. I asked him what I should do if she balked at this request. He said that then I would probably have to make the 911 call, the nuclear option.

Fuck.

I went to her bedroom. She was lying in bed, crying.

She said quietly, “I’m sorry.”

I nodded. I asked her, “Will come with me to the Dewey Center to get checked out?”

She ignored the question. Instead, she asked me,

“Are you mad at me?”

I shook. “No, I’m not mad. I’m just scared. I’m really scared.”

“Okay, I’ll go.” Then she said, “I threw up.”

“Where?”

“On the floor, under the pillow.”

I lifted the pillow. Puke from Mexican food is never very pretty. It also stains the carpet the carpet rather quickly.

I told her, “It’s okay. Can you get yourself ready.”

“Yeah, but I need to change and take a shower.”

“Go do it. I’ll clean up here.”

Once she was ready, we walked out to the car. She had a bag of clothes with her, in case she needed to stay at the hospital overnight. She stopped on the front porch and asked, me,

“Are you mad at me?”

I put my hands on her shoulders, looked her in the eye, and said, “No.”

“Does this mean I have to live somewhere else?” She was close to tears.

“No. You stay with me.”

“Are just saying that to get me to go, or do you mean it?”

Now I was close to tears. I said hoarsely, “You stay with me.”

“Okay.”

It took nearly an hour for us to get to the admissions/intake office at the Dewey Center. Traffic was bad. We sat for a while once we arrived. The girl was examined, and then released. Either she wasn’t sick enough, or her insurance wasn’t good enough. In any case, She wasn’t staying at the hospital.

We walked to the car. She said to me,

“Thanks for taking me. I’m really sorry.”

I turned to her. “Don’t be sorry. You have no reason to be sorry. You’re sick. You don’t have to be sorry if you’re sick.”

When we got home, she changed her sheets, and washed her bedding. We cleaned up her bedroom a bit. I told her PO what was going on. He was okay with how we handled things. He will visit us tomorrow for a home visit.

She turned on Netflix. We watched the biopic about Ted Bundy, the serial killer. The movie was anti-climactic after the day we just had. The girl ate Dove bars, and calmed down. My blood pressure slowly dropped down almost normal levels. We both went to sleep early.

Things are better today, and all we have is today.

Tomorrow anything can happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Edge of War

January 5th, 2020

Hans called me last night. He’d been drinking a bit. Oh well. I had had a couple beers too.

Hans wanted to vent. That’s why he calls. He knows that I will listen, at least for a while.

Hans wanted to talk to me about the current unrest in the Middle East, especially since it affects people close to him.

Hans told me irritably, “Gabby is all worried about her little brother, Luke. He’s in Kuwait now, and she’s all worried that he is going to get into some trouble in Iran.”

Note: Gabby is Hans’ wife.

I replied slowly, “Well, it could happen.”

Hans went on, “Yeah, it could, but I don’t see it happening. He has an MOS as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. If it does happen, it’s his own damn fault.”

“How so?”

Hans lit up a Pall Mall, and said, “Well, he fucking enlisted. He should have known that he could get into some shit.”

“How so?”

“Dad, c’mon, you know. The recruiters, they lie to you, because that’s their job, but they still make it goddamn clear that, if things turn to shit, you are going to be Infantry.”

I thought for a moment. Yeah, that was true. I flew helicopters in the Army, but I knew, if my aircraft ever went down, I was just another grunt with a rifle. Actually, all I had was a .38 caliber revolver. That was only good enough to kill myself if the the hated Reds overran our position. Fortunately, that sort of thing never happened with me. The Soviets never crossed the border.

Hans was on a roll. He said to me, “I told Luke what he was getting into. We had a long talk about all of this shit. Did he listen? Fuck no!”

I paused, and then I asked Hans, “Years ago, did you listen?”

There was another pause. Then he said quietly, “I never listen.”

That is sometimes true.

Hans went on, “And Mary’s boyfriend, he went Airborne! We talked about that shit too. He wanted to go Infantry, and then go Ranger. I told him, ‘Don’t go Airborne. don’t jump out of fucking airplanes’. He did anyway. Now he is part of the 82nd Airborne, and they just sent his sorry ass to Iraq.”

Hans thought back for a bit. “That guy went combat arms. So did I. I went Armor. I drove tanks. I knew what might happen. When we got to Iraq, they took our tanks away, and we were Infantry. I kicked in a lot of doors there.”

Hans lit up again. I could hear the click of the lighter. I could hear him taking a drag off his cigarette.

He said, “Dad, you know what I mean. Everybody gets trained first with rifles and Infantry weapons. That’s because everybody might have to use those weapons. They trained me good. I learned things. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here now.”

I don’t doubt that at all.

Hans got thoughtful. “All these troops going over there. It’s just a show of force. They ain’t going to do shit.”

Maybe Hans is right. I hope so. I hope that it’s all just playacting.

What if it’s not?

What if Gabby’s brother, and Mary’s boyfriend, get sucked into something insane and evil? What if all hell breaks loose?

Hans has spent some time in hell. He’s been there. Gabby is worried that Hans might get called back to fight.

Hans told me, “They ain’t going to call me up. The Army doesn’t want any of us old guys. They want young people who don’t know shit.”

He’s right.