Reflections and Random Thoughts

End-of-the-year resolutions that will soon die on the altar of hope.

New Year resolutions
Photo by Antonio Ruiz

What is it about the end of a year that we are compelled to reflect on the last 365 days and wonder, fascinated that we made it through the fire of days and weeks, and months of work, play, sex, love, hate, hunger, gluttony, selfishness, selflessness, the beauty and the ugliness of being here except to be able to reflect and write these words and live this life learning and growing knowing that one day we will be unable to continue anymore?

2022. I am often obsessed with the reality that I’ve made it this far, not just this one year but all the last seventy-four years of it all, even after forty-five of those years stoned, drunk, feeling nothing knowing only eyes wide shut, refusing to acknowledge that there is a better option. Eyes wide open. All the way open so that all the light, the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars, nature’s sweet calling, and the laughter of babies, children, and adults who sing in the morning and during their daily living because that’s what we should all do. Hey, it’s better than crying all the time and hiding in a closet with no light allowed to enter and no breeze, and fear is one’s only companion.

Been there. Done that. 

Goals are good. Hell, I have had plenty of them. Then, I realized that I was living for the goals and not for the moment’s journey through them. After a moment, I knew that I couldn’t tell you how much the wind breathed or the sounds of the birds and bees that sent me messages or the color of the trees and that flower that greeted me every time I stepped out of my house and the sights I passed on the freeway or city streets because all I did was look straight ahead stiff-backed eyes on the road listening only to the incessant noise of the all-news station or talk radio blabber of call in yahoos complaining about their miserable lives so then soon my life was also sad. I forgot where the hell I was or going or cared.

Kill me now, I often yelled in the emptiness of the car. 
New Year resolutions
Photo by Antonio Ruiz

2022. We’re coming up on three years of the pandemic (you do remember the pandemic). I’m trying to fly above it, being careful not to be dropped head-first into the eye of the hurricane (knock on wood that it hasn’t happened yet), trying to defy the odds while flying to Texas (three times) and San Francisco (two times) and slipping into enclosed spaces at school with a mask on. Still, no one seems to worry on the planes and in school (do they know something I don’t?). I have been scared shitless for nearly three years, and this is no way to live or die, but amid the fear, something beautiful has happened.

Resolution number one: burst the fear like a yellow-topped pimple (yuck). Yeah, it’s ugly and gross, but so is the fear that comes with constantly looking over your shoulder and to the side of you and in front of you and all around you because you’re so worried about everybody else and everything else that you’ve lost faith in your ability to make the right choices that are right for you.

Sticks and stones will always hurt me, but fear can kill my soul. If I stop fearing, the fog can be lifted from my mind.
New Year resolutions
Photo by Antonio Ruiz

Resolution number two: Be happy. Only you can make yourself comfortable. Don’t look outside of yourself for salvation. Salvation will only come from you. Don’t look outside of yourself for liberation. Liberation will only come from you.

Trust me. There is no magic pill. 

Resolution number three: Make all the goals and plans you want. Just don’t forget that you must take a path and a journey to get there. It begins at this moment, followed by another moment, followed by many more moments composed of a moment of silence and thought and meditation (something similar to stopping, looking, and listening for the eighteen-wheeler coming at you while you only think about getting to the other side of the street without looking both ways.)

New Year resolutions
Photo by Antonio Ruiz

For most of my adult life, I believed there was no time to stop for anyone or anything. I was in a perpetual hurry fueled by doubt, inexperience, and often drugs and alcohol; I just had to keep going, not knowing what direction I was headed in (I don’t know where I’m headed, but I’m going there anyway) as long as I got there only to find out later that it wasn’t the place I wanted to go to. Or needed to be there. There was no map or directions, only a meandering, sometimes blind journey. What a waste of time, I would shout.

But was it?

Here’s the last random thought. All those detours, dead ends, and misdirection somehow became embedded in my brain and eventually became guard rails, signal lights, bells, and whistles at those intersections in life we always find ourselves. I could count on them to help me decide at that moment so that I wouldn’t again drive off the road or a cliff or something crazy.

Lesson learned. 
New Year resolution
Photo by Antonio Ruiz

I got goals and plans for 2023. Big goals. Big plans. Big dreams. In the meantime, I’ll relax, lay in this moment, and be.

And that's a good thing.

In Sickness and In Health

Inspired by “Old Faithful Testing the limits of love” By David Sedaris

Old marriage
Image by 👀 Mabel Amber, who will one day from Pixabay

The last five years have been a test of the marriage vow we took in 1987; you know, the one about loving each other forever, in sickness and health. I sure did test my partner with those words. My body called for not one but two artificial knees during that time. The left knee in 2018 and the right in 2021, smack damn in the middle of the pandemic. Trust me when I say you never want to do even one if you don’t need it. And I mean last resort.

I’ve had other medical issues over the years of our marriage (if you don’t count the drugs and alcohol). There was the Hepatitis C scare. I’m cured, but the news came five months after I stopped drinking and taking drugs. The doctor told us that if I had continued, it would have been catastrophic for me, like throwing alcohol on fire. I missed that bullet.

My lower back pains, sciatica shooting down my right leg, high blood pressure, some crazy chronic cough that we think is acid reflux, and my general yo-yo weight fight. Other than those issues, I’m probably a diabetic, anxiously waiting for whatever else comes with high blood pressure. And she still stays with me. I mean, she’s had some issues over the years but compared to me, she is strictly an amateur. No, I got her beat.

Old marriage
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

We both have worked from home for the last nearly three years of the pandemic. School classes have begun to open up, so I attend more in person each semester. But I still stay home for homework and some Zoom meetings as much as possible. My partner does almost all of her sessions on Zoom. As a result, no matter how much space we give each other in our house (thank goodness for the size of the house), we still need to interact more often than when we were both working full-time at our respective jobs in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from living and working at home during the pandemic: give each other space. Otherwise, you are inviting trouble. Of course, that was hard to do when you needed help during one of my medical issues, like when I was not that agile with a busted knee. The trip to the bathroom was like an adventure in mountain climbing, as in climbing out of bed, holding on to the metal bars of the walker, lowering oneself, and raising myself on and off the toilet. The shower had its own set of challenges. Considering how dependent I was in those first few weeks of my knee surgeries, I got to give my partner credit for hanging in as long as she did. Let’s say she’s a little queasy about looking at blood and scars and those yellow pus marks on top of bandages.

I think about other couples I’ve known over the years who have had their marriage tested by far more significant medical challenges than my lousy knees etc. Cancer, terrible life-threatening accidents, dementia- I feel stupid talking about my issues. However, there is no escaping the fact that a marriage can be tested by other conditions that we seldom want to discuss. For example, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and other mental health crises. All these and more spur the couple to confront the limits of what they are willing to endure and what they are eager to do to resolve them so their marriage remains intact.

Old marriage
Photo by Sumire Gant

It’s easy to say, well, you made a vow and that you should live by that code. Yeah, that’s easier said than done. I’ve learned over three marriages and two live-in relationships that all the tests of the relationship cannot be passed if both parties aren’t willing to endure it and pass through it together. If the foundation of love or whatever you want to call it isn’t there, then forget it. I mean, sometimes, the tests call out the best in people, and couples who may have been on the edge of disarray end up discovering something deep down inside of themselves and then use it to move through the crisis together, and they all live happily ever after or at least until the next crisis.

I am lucky that my partner has a deep reservoir of humanity in her and that I’ve discovered that I have one that I didn’t know existed. The past five years, especially the last three, challenged us both to take our vows seriously and to live each day contemplating what we meant when we said those words, “…until death do us part.” So far, we’ve come out on this end together and still rocking that love thing.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This Before

The unraveling of America. Not that we were ever as knotted together as we think we were.

Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Road Rage
A group of teenagers (or adults) is beating up another teenager (or adult) in a public space, and no one who is witnessing it attempts to stop it. Instead, everyone pulls out their phones and start recording the event, and some even live stream it. Another human being whose video of the incident later gets 225,643 likes steps over the victim on the ground because they have places to go. The victim is so severely injured that they are transported to the hospital, where they suffer needlessly or die. Maybe, they'll get five minutes on the news. 

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Mask Fights
You’re seventy-three years old and high-risk health-wise, and you go to the Urologist’s office in Orange County where you see a waiting room of other senior-looking men and a few women who you assume might also be at risk health-wise considering their age and the reason they are there and the intake person is a young woman who is not wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic and chatting up a storm to those coming to the window, and then you look over and realize that other staff around her (also young people) are not wearing masks, and you’re shocked, and you quickly retreat to the furthest corner of the office lobby hoping that you’re going to be okay and wondering “Is this a doctor’s office?” and why weren’t you warned and you swear that you won’t ever come here again because it’s apparent that they just don’t give a shit about you or your health. Kind of like walking over your dead body because they got better things to do than protect your health in a doctor’s office. 

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Spirit Airlines passengers brawl inside Detroit Metro Airport
You’re at the airport waiting at the gate for your flight when all of a sudden you hear shouting from the gate next door, and you turn and see a full-fledged rock 'em and sock ‘em battle to the death by would be passengers hauling blows upon the airline staff behind the counter as the victimizers curse their mommas and daddies and complain “Whatcha’ mean the flight’s been canceled?” and people get their cell phones out and are recording the action, some even streaming it live, and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Where’re the cops?” and “Aren’t you supposed to be wearing a mask at the airport?” as you watch the victimizers not wearing masks because they want to be able to shout their obscenities filled rants clearly and loudly so they can be heard and some of the people shooting videos have lowered their masks because they’ve determined that somehow the masks get in the way of their live streaming the battle royal. Later one of them will learn that their video has received 525,674 likes after they’ve stepped over the airport damage and some little old lady innocent bystander who’s writhing on the ground in pain (“Fuck ‘em).

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

I was thinking about all of this when I came across the headline America Is Falling Apart at the Seams, an opinion piece by David Brooks. The headline scared me because I’d been saying it for the past seven years (Actually, way longer). Brooks lamented the seeming breakdown in society’s weave and wondered why.

“But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down.”

David Brooks
Image by joanbrown51 from Pixabay

There’s a long list of signs that America is unraveling, but he offers no solutions, “As a columnist, I’m supposed to have some answers. But I just don’t right now. I just know the situation is dire.” I agree. Things seem bad. So bad that we just don’t have an answer to what to do about it (Besides just shooting some video and stepping over some person’s dead body).

It must be so bad that I found other columnists bemoaning the state of America: Rudeness Is on the Rise. You Got a Problem With That? by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Others are looking into the possibilities of the next American Civil War: Imagine another American Civil War, but this time in every state reported by NPR’s Ron Elving or In the coming second American Civil War, which side are you on? an opinion piece by Chauncey Devega.

These pieces mirror the news headlines we see every day announcing the latest battles around COVID or Race or White Supremacy, guns, crime, fights on planes, and my favorite, Wokeness (I wish someone would define that for me). Dogmatism has replaced compromise because the extreme wings of our political and social discourse have hijacked the process.

On the right, the politics of the last twenty-two years since the Bush-Gore debacle have grown more feverish, commanding, and powerful. Strategically, they have worked hard to take the levers of power in more states and localities than the moderates and progressives can ever have dreamt. Ruthless and dogged while inciting in mostly White Americans (Black and Latino adherents are a separate story) the need to kick some ass on their way to their thrones of power.

On the left, there has been a desire to abandon dialogue with the right and moderates because, well, what has that gotten them? The victories of the sixties through the end of the twentieth century are threatened and, in some cases, have already been pushed back by conservative legislatures and conservative judiciary. The left asks, “Why are we still fighting for social justice in 2022?” and they are frustrated to the point of To hell with compromise.

Some on the left, like their counterparts on the right, believe the only thing this country understands is what comes out of the end of a gun barrel. It may be time to kick some ass.

But the reality is, that as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve witnessed this conflict of conscience where some people don’t give one cent about their fellow humans. Anyone who has studied American history (not the whitewashed homogenized version) knows that this is not the first time in our history that the hands of Americans are at the throats of other Americans and that they didn’t give a shit.

However, something feels different now. It’s not just the pandemic, or that’s there are just more of us with smartphones and access to and influence of the thoughts of millions of other Americans who just can’t stand other Americans and also don’t give a shit. Fuck ‘em as I walk over their dead bodies.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

This is sad. Not surprising, but still sad. You just feel that something is missing. An emptiness of character, a deficit of human empathy. That there is no hope.

Damn, there just has to be.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

For My Own Health

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Forget COVID mutations; I’ve got other things to worry about. Over the past three years, I’ve had two knee replacements, degeneration of the lumbosacral intervertebral disc, sciatica, some strange extended bronchial infection that requires a CT-Scan and a visit to a pulmonologist, and the words from more than one doctor that I better do something about my weight. Or else.

Now, before I go on with my self-pity rant, let me be clear. I don’t believe for a moment that COVID and its mutations are anything but serious. Unlike the antis’ and the deniers, I believe that we are still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported 5,183,003 cumulative deaths worldwide. 611,528 new cases worldwide have been reported in a twenty-four-hour period. Since all this started in 2020, there have been a total of 259,502,031 cases worldwide. The breakdown in the United States does not bring me comfort. Just yesterday, there had been a reported 100,455 new cases. The U.S. statistics are mindboggling: 47,802,459 cumulative cases since this all began with an accompanying 771,529 cumulative deaths. And there will be plenty more as the deniers and politicians who grovel before them will guarantee.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

So talking about my medical issues seems so petty. Except they are both real and annoying the hell out of me. This damn cough, for example. Now, I’ve had this before. You think it’s just a plain cough until you find yourself wheezing and having difficulty breathing (No, I don’t have COVID or long COVID). In the past, it would either turn into bronchitis or graduate to pneumonia or just plain go away on its own. Albuterol Sulfate HFA Inhalation Aerosol and I have become the best of buds. This time around, it’s been joined by a new friend Wixela (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol inhalation powder, USP). If you think the name is too long or hard to pronounce, you should read the instructions and the side effects. I’ve recently taken a CT-SCAN. The results will be ready on Friday. I’m supposed to head to a pulmonologist, but the earliest appointment available is in February. Seems my healthcare provider has only one lung doctor in all of region four which includes Long Beach. So, I asked myself how many people we talking about in region four. I’m sure I’m not the only one. WTH!! I’ve put in for another referral, but I’m not optimistic that anything is going to happen anytime soon. I’ve been here before, and the holidays seem to see their share of slowdowns and shutdowns. Add the Pandemic on top of that, and you know I’m in trouble.

The lower back is acting up again. Out of nowhere, I suddenly found myself enduring excruciating pain when I would try to stand up straight after extended sitting. It takes a while to straighten up, and walking has me stooping over and moving ever so slightly to make sure my lower spine doesn’t get a hernia. Now, this is not new, as I said, but I really didn’t need this right now. I just recently received an epidural which is supposed to relieve the back and sciatic pain. Those shots are supposed to last three to six months. It hasn’t been more than a month. What the hell happened?

I’m going to be seventy-three years old next week. I’m starting to really feel that old (whatever old feelings you get at seventy-three). My doctors and my partner-wife wag their fingers at me with warnings about all this stuff happening to me is either caused by or made worse by my weight. Under any measure, I am obese. There I said it. It gives me no pleasure admitting it. This damn obesity is going to kill me unless I do something about it for the hundredth time.

Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

I love to eat. That’s my addiction. I wish I could say that it was always healthy food, but I would be lying. My struggles with food and weight go back decades. I was a chubby kid when I was thirteen years old. When I was in my fifties, I put on some serious weight that I took the desperate measure of a weight loss program and exercise and personal sacrifice to lose one hundred and ten pounds. And when I did, I jumped into running 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons. A blown-out knee put an end to all that. Everything after that was a blur until I decided to give up drinking and drugs. Then, I thought I could get back to some healthy weight and return to exercise and moderate eating. Well, that was fine for a while. Then, the pandemic and all the subsequent issues came along, and all hell broke loose. And here I am.

I couldn’t move well because of the knee replacements, lower back issues, and sciatica, so there was no exercise. The Pandemic was the perfect excuse to use for stuffing my face and stomach in between zoom encounters and not moving for any reason. The result was not only an increase of 30 or more pounds (Not sound like much? Well, I was already 40-50 pounds overweight when this whole B.S. started). I am the perfect example of how being heavy impacts your health. From being pre-diabetic to increasing pressure on my knees and lower back, I have found that weight can make you feel miserable. I don’t need any more reminders than what my body is already telling me.

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

So now what? I’ve been down this road before. I’ve restarted walking and the gym routine, and I’m back on WeightWatchers. Fine, I tell myself, but none of this means anything unless I take the same passion and commitment I applied to be sober and apply it here. Do I even have a choice at this age? How many friends with similar challenges have I seen drop dead or end up in the hospital? Honestly, this time fear has slipped into the picture. I have too many things that I want to do before I pass on. Writing these words scares me because I know this is real. What I do next is up to me, and for my own health, I better get it right.

The News Is Driving Us into A Dark Hole

Mental Health
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I have this daily ritual when I wake up and after I organize my day. I scan both the local and national news sites. My head usually hurts afterward. These days it’s just always the same: political fights, wars, shootings, COVID denial, culture wars, the GOP this, the Dems that. And the opinion pages aren’t any better. I mean, I have an opinion, and no one cares about it, so what makes me want to care about these (unless, of course, I agree with them). It’s all the news that’s bound to drive us into a dark hole.

This morning like every morning, I went through my list of sites beginning with local. Long Beach Post. It’s Monday, so at five a.m. in the morning, the news isn’t fresh yet, I get it. People need time off. Headlines like “Community Hospital to close ER, increase mental health services, skirting seismic requirements” and “From migraines to vomiting, residents struggle to live normally through Dominguez Channel odor” compete to get the positivity vibes going. Over at the Press-Telegram, there’s the mandatory update on the Pandemic (there’s a pandemic?) “LA County reports 1,153 new cases of COVID-19, 10 more deaths.” Seriously no one seems to care anymore. That’s the impression I get from all the sightings of people entering businesses with no masks (it’s okay, they’re vaccinated. Yea, how do I know that? I’ll leave this for another rant).

“4 weekend shootings in Long Beach leave 2 people hospitalized,” and this is with strict gun control laws. Wait until the Supreme Court rules that we can all run around with a handgun in our pocket to bars, stadiums, public transportation, hell, maybe a school. As my brother, who lives in New York, said, “What could go wrong?”

Over at the Los Angeles Times, the headline that caught my attention was the one about books in school libraries, “A ‘war on books’: Conservatives push for audits of school libraries.” Is this like election audits where we call in people who have no clue how to run elections, and then they sort of hack their way through ballots contaminating the process, and still come up with nothing but more votes for the winner? So who gets to decide who the expert is this time? Do the neighborhood Ken and Karen who barely made it out of high school get sent into school libraries and just go nuts pulling books from shelves and sniffing them for the odor of subversion and anti-stupid? No, that wouldn’t be right. Let’s invite the same people who gave us the majority conservative Supreme Court that we have. They’ll know what America needs.

Mental Health
Image by kalhh from Pixabay

Over on the national news sites, the news is scarier. The New York Times blasts “Retailers Scramble to Attract Workers Ahead of the Holidays.” It seems people don’t think bonuses of $500 upwards to $3000 are just not enough to put up with “the pandemic’s many challenges, from fights over mask-wearing to high rates of infection among employees.” Sure, the pay is just great. All I have to do is bring my boxing gloves to work every day to fight with Ken and Karen or break up a fight they start with other customers. I’ll just stay home and watch the videos.

Down in Washington, D.C., I see our elected officials are hard at work…arguing with each other and not doing the people’s work. The Democrats finally squeezed through an infrastructure bill (you know, the one that creates jobs) with some of their own refusing to sign on and only thirteen Republicans in the House voting for it. In the Senate in August, only nineteen Republicans voted for it. At the Washington Post, the headline is “Democrats insist Build Back Better bill will pass, despite divisions.” They’ve been saying that for months as the amount of money and programs are carved away to satisfy, wait for it, two Democrats in the Senate who will have to vote for whatever passes in the House eventually. I wonder how many Republicans will vote for the package. I’m not taking that bet.

Thank goodness there’s some good news, but good news gets easily crushed combined with what we see and hear on television, our phones, and radio. It’s all enough to make us depressed. The bad news has always been with us, but I do feel like this time is different. You cannot absorb all this terrible news without seeing it in the context of the Pandemic. It’s enough to drive all of us into a dark hole.

Mental Health
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

According to Mental Health America in their report on “The State of Mental Health in America,” over half of adults (27 million adults) in the United States with a mental illness are not receiving treatment.” Thinking about suicide amongst adults has increased. “4.58% of adults report having serious thoughts of suicide,” that’s 664,000 more people from last year’s data. The numbers are numbing when it comes to substance abuse: “7.74% of adults in America reported having a substance use disorder in the past year. 2.97% of adults in America reported having an illicit drug use disorder in the past year. 5.71% of adults in America reported having an alcohol use disorder in the past year.  

This latest survey has more bad news. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the “Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020.” During June 24–30, 2020, “U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.” The affected groups include younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers, pretty much everyone as far as I can tell. Compared to the same period in 2019, the survey turned up these groups suffering “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide). I wonder if dealing with all the Ken and Karen debacles involving mask and vaccine resistance has anything to do with it (I’m not laughing).

The solution is not to stop watching the news, as I implied in last week’s blog. Although a respite from the noise sure does help drain the muddy swamp in my head. I speak to a therapist regularly, but that’s because it’s a medical insurance benefit. More people should take advantage of it if they have it. The real problem, as always, is reaching those who feel stigmatized by the idea of therapy. Then there are those Americans who don’t have access to the benefit at all.

Suppose elected officials would stop their partisan sniping and sending up false flags. Then maybe, just maybe, Democrats and Republicans can deal with the real issues threatening all our futures.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for the good news amongst the bad and hope for the best.

What’s Bugging Me These Days

Image by Sammy-Sander from Pixabay

Watching television and your phone these days, do you ever get the feeling there’s just too much happening in your mind and your life? There’s the stress at work and school and home and community. Pandemic, arguing about Critical Race Theory, vaccination denial, death threats over masks, we won’t get toys in time for the holidays. There’s the social media hysteria. And the Democrats can’t get their act together. They’re practically handing 2022 and 2024 over to you know who. Don’t forget the new narrative about January 6, 2021. The FBI, BLM, Antifa, and yo momma did it. I have a severe headache.

Months ago began refusing to watch the evening opinion shows on CNN and MSNBC. Not because I was in denial. It was just the constant drone of lousy news hysteria and throwing shade, and it was just the same horrible bullshit night after night. There just didn’t seem to be any good news on the horizon. The bad guys were still the bad guys, and I couldn’t figure out who the good guys were. That was the sad part. Everyone points fingers and scream at each other. They accused each other of the worst things imaginable, and no one wanted to take the blame for anything. It was just easier to blame the other person.

Gas and everything else is going up. The supply lines are threatened. And you just can’t help but feel like nothing is happening and that nothing good will come out of this. Wow, this is a good time as any to take a deep breath and step out of the vortex of negativity, misinformation, and selfishness.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

That’s a big part of the problem. You see and read more examples every day where people would rather satisfy their little selfish needs than take the time to see how their actions might impact their family or friends, or neighbors. Whether it’s speeding through someone’s neighborhood or refusing violently to wear a mask when asked, or shouting death to your neighbor every time you disagree with each other. Knocking out the teeth of a fellow passenger on an airplane 35-thousand feet in the air just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Arguing with the Uber or Lyft driver while they’re trying to take you to your destination by keeping their eyes on the road instead of your shouting mouth is just not the most brilliant move you can make.

Whatever happened to We’re all in this together? Yeah, I guess that was just a marketing slogan, not a sincere thought. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We just can’t seem to muster enough empathy, sympathy, heartwarming feelings for our fellow human beings. Half of us are still angry that their guy didn’t win, and the other half is trying to move forward with an eye on our rear to make sure someone doesn’t run up on us and spray bear urine on us. Don’t grin. Some of that second half is spoiling for a fight and just can’t wait for the first half, nominally called Karen and Ken, to bounce out from their camouflaged hideaways and pick-up trucks and whatever hold they think they need to hide in to ambush the second half. Anger and threats fill the air between the first and second half, guns come out, and cheers and threats go up as we sadly watch our Democracy die.

In the meantime, we’re all just trying to survive. Carry on with life as if the past nearly two years didn’t happen. I hate to tell you, but it’s still happening whether you want to believe it or not. Denial, isn’t that a bitch? I just don’t get it. What’s the end game? There’s a whole network (actually more than one) devoted to fanning the flames of denial and hate and ignorance, and I’m trying to figure out what’s in it for them? It would be too easy just to say it’s all about money. And to say it’s just about aiding and abetting the next American revolution to overthrow the Democracy we know for something else like, I don’t know, a Theocracy or a United States of Republicanism or Trumpism. I mean, they do know that more of us voted for the other guy than voted for their guy? But, they have more guns and the deep state of law enforcement and military and ex-law enforcement and ex-military. What do we have? The stereotypical answer would be We have the truth on our side. But, no one cares anymore about facts. All that matters is which conspiracy theory, what crazy ass story, is the worst. How many times can you call something, anything, a False Flag?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I wish I could say that it’s only one side screaming crazy. The internet is full of people screaming equally crazy shit about the other side. Say something that breaks some invisible rule or crosses some imaginary red line, and you are fucked for life. All sense of perspective and proportion no longer exists. Everyone has anointed themselves enforcer, judge, and jury. All you need is a social media account, and you are suddenly that enforcer, judge, and jury. Whatever happened to sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Now, it’s we’re going to beat the shit out of you for your words with a stick, stones, more words, lawsuits, harassment, and threats against you, your family, and anyone else we can find. I’m just curious Who died and made you King and Queen?

I get into discussions with my wife and friends who have a more optimistic passion for the future. They believe in hope. In the long run, we all want happiness and a good life and community where we can all live as neighbors in peace. All the noise we hear and see in internet videos is not an accurate picture of this country. They try to convince me that there are more good people than bad people and that it’s all our responsibility to find each other and look out for each other. To celebrate together what we have and what we need. That without each other, we will surrender to all that noise that we just can’t seem to get out of our heads. Come on, Antonio, they say, change the channel and discover the other 500 channels of hope and love.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Okay, I’ll try. Except my channel seems to be stuck, and I have to change the batteries on my remote.

I guess I could just unplug the TV and turn off my phone.

9/11, Ten Years of Sobriety, and the Pandemic

In respect to the solemn date of 9/11, I withheld this blog’s publication for one day.

Photo by Antonio Ruiz

On September 11, 2011, I woke up and swore I would never again pour alcohol down my throat, smoke a joint, or ingest any other controlled or uncontrolled substances into my body. At the time, I told myself that the decision had nothing to do with the then 10th anniversary of 9/11. It was just a coincidence.

Now, ten years later, twenty years after 9/11, I sometimes wonder. Especially now during a Pandemic that shows no signs of going away, contrary to the wishful thinking of the deniers.

There is so much commonality, emotionally, between the chaos of my life in 2011 and the chaos of 9/11/2001. That one day not only changed the survivors and families and friends of the dead. It turned an entire nation at that moment into a united people ready to do whatever was necessary to protect itself. Unfortunately for many, that act meant being turned into fearful, angry, vengeful, hateful citizens willing to strike out at anyone they thought looked like the “enemy.” 9/11 brought to the surface the ugly past of anti-immigrant fury so ingrained in the nation’s DNA.

That fury was not just from the usual white suspects. The wrath of hate extended to people of color who I thought would be more tolerant of the neighbors they had known for years. A hysteria crawled out of the nation’s sewer history and crept into their brains and hearts. It was repulsive. Emotionally devastating, and it has lasted for years even to this day.

I am not making a comparison between the death of thousands of people and my life. There were so many emotions in 2011. Feelings of fear, anger, even hate, and self-hate had crawled out of some sewer in my life and captured me. I had been dealing with alcohol and drug addiction for forty-seven years. Emotionally, it had at times turned me into an unrecognizable human being. The gut-wrenching vitriol. The despair of sinking into a bottomless hole. Countless relationships were injured, damaged, excised from my life.

I woke up on the morning of September 11, 2011, and decided that enough was enough. All those emotions had been bubbling up and oozing out of every pore and exploding inside and from me. I just couldn’t go on. The exit strategy was simple, walk away, just like that.

I’m not saying it was easy, nor that I did it alone. My family and friends were there. Always there when I needed a reminder. I was not going back into that hole, that very dark hole. And not once, in ten years, have I ever peeked over the rim and wondered. Not once.

Now, here I am ten years later, post-Trump, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. We are surrounded by deniers, threats to our democracy, threats to the future of this country, more divided as a people (remember when we all rallied around the flag?). I’m still sober, attending college, trying to make sense of why we even celebrate 9/11 because it sure isn’t the same nation. Some people don’t remember because they weren’t born yet or were too young or stopped caring about their fellow citizens who aren’t like them.

New York City’s One World Trade Center when under construction (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

Sort of like on 9/11 when we suddenly stopped caring about our next-door neighbor because they were too brown or their names didn’t sound American enough, and who knows what’s in their minds and souls. It’s all the same shit as today. Fuck our neighbor, our family, our friends because, well, “It’s all about me.”

On this anniversary of my 10th Sober Anniversary in the middle of a pandemic, I honestly don’t want to relive 9/11 or the personal nightmare from which I escaped. There had been enough emotional suffering to last a lifetime. I want to move on with my life, free of the lifetime of the emotional burden

Sobriety allows me to look back and consider that I was more than a drunk and drug addict. I have accomplished much during my seventy-two years, and I wasn’t always the worst person in the world. The goal is to find the best in me and build on it for the future. That’s what I’m doing.

It’s easy to mourn the lost lives but forget what we became because of the tragedy. The last twenty years of 9/11 anniversaries but also on where we are now. I say we because, just like 9/11, this one finds us in a world of hurt. I am satisfied that I made it to ten years of sobriety. However, I have not felt this much tension, vulnerability, despair, and sadness for us as a nation of citizens in a long time. What the fuck happened to us?

The Manhattan Skyline (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

We can mourn and still push away from the worst of what we have become. I have realized that the enemy is not terrorists from some foreign country. Each of us Americans has become the enemy to each other. It’s us, those who take this pandemic as a threat to this planet versus people who want to defy mask rules and vaccine mandates. Those are the same people who want to impose their version of an America that never existed except on television and magazines. No, the United States of America doesn’t just belong to them. And they can’t get that through their thick empty heads.

As I review my status today, ten years sober, I see a man trying to stuff a whole lot of “would of should of” into these years of my life that are left to live (I hope it’s another thirty years). The reality is all I can do is take it one day at a time. I commit myself to challenge the worst of me and be a better human being and citizen. I can only hope that we as a nation can do the same.

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