Friday, January 12, 2007

Starting over again, looking for more light

Here's an interesting coincidence. January 11, 2007 marks 21 days since December 21st - the winter solstice. Twenty-one days since the year's shortest day and longest night - the time of the least light and the most darkness of the winter.

In the olden days, on the solstice I understand there were huge bonfires to bring light into a darkened world. It's from these supposedly heathen celebrations that we have the traditions of lights on Christmas trees - illumination to a darkened world, reminiscent of a Star shining on another dark night, bringing the Light of the world.

It would be nice to celebrate the coming of more light, wouldn't it?

I'd really like to take that high road of philosophical imagery today, but I can't.

For me, Thursday is simply the fourth day that I have been out of the hospital.

Anyone who has been reading these posts over the last year know that the single most significant focus of my life for the last fourteen months has been a sadly codependent, addictive relationship with my employer. It has been a battle to do the impossible - to take a series of systems that don't play well together and an undertrained but desperately committed staff and somehow make them work for a deeply-unhappy client. The intention was always that "when things get better, when things get stable, the work schedule will ease back." But we "went live" on New Years' Day 2006, and twelve months later the situation is not in the least improved. In fact, it is in many respects worse.

And I've been an idiot - somewhere between a John Candy imitation of the Man of Steel and a badly-drawn Dudley Do-Right, trying desperately to save the day, to make things right, to "get it all together" somehow so that life would be good. Through increasingly manual intervention, I (and others) have tried and tried and tried to defeat the shortcomings of systems we barely understood. And the more we tried, the more we (especially I) failed. Once again, I have learned the painful lesson that the blue tights and the red cape still don't fit, and almost certainly never will. In fact, they never did fit. It was all a lie.

Over the last four weeks, the hours have gotten (if one could believe it) even more insane - aided and abetted by the fact that since my move to Ohio and my work-at-home situation, I don't even have to walk to the train anymore. My "commute" is now about 8 feet - from the bed to the desk in my spacious bedroom/den/office. Over the last three months, physical human interaction (e.g., non-instant-messaging relationships), exercise, even eating dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, all fell off significantly. And when I finally did take time for myself - for sleep, for recovery meetings, for fixing and eating meals (or, eventually, eating the meals that my disabled sister fixed for me) - it always felt like there was too much left to do to get up and walk away from the desk, from the crisis at hand, from the heart of the battle.

All that changed Friday, January 5th. For about two weeks, I'd been having some uncomfortable spasms in my chest when I finally did get to go to sleep. Being overweight, hypertense, diabetic and nearly 50, I was getting a wee bit nervous about what those spasms might mean.

So I went to the doctor on Friday, in the midst of the latest end-of-year and start-of-new-year battles at The Evil Empire, to get it checked out. I figured it would be as it had been in the past - new medicine, new/fresh warnings about my lifestyle, and that would be that... that is, "until things got stable" and I could actually find some leisure time to take some action.

Then the doctor said the words no one wants to hear: "I don't like the looks of this - I can't be 100% sure, but I'd say you really need to be in the hospital to get this checked out."

I said, "But..."

...and the doc gave me a look that spoke volumes, and said, "Today. As in, right now. As in, 'Do you need someone to drive you? Or should we call you an ambulance?' "

So I called my brother-in-law, and I went.

When I got there, my blood pressure was at stroke level, my blood sugar was in the stratosphere, my heart was racing like I'd just run a 50-yard dash, and I was damning all the time that I spent working and NOT either praying or getting my will and durable power of attorney updated. All the things that were so critical two hours earlier - other people's lives and information - seemed to shrink to insignificance as I confronted the admissions form saying, "Indicate your next of kin."

Those five words will get your attention.

So will having a nurse start an intravenous line in your arm.

I have to admit it - I made a great drunk at times, but I would have been a dismal failure as an IV drug user. I simply hate needles. Yes, I get the occasional vaccination; yes, I submit to the periodic blood-test, and don't even whimper much (though I do sing Hosannas to whoever invented those marvelous vacu-tainer things that mean you can get stuck once, and get many vials of blood removed. Thank you God, for those things).

But getting even a short-term hospital IV line set? I'd rather have a gasoline enema. I'd rather be stretched on a rack, or to attempt suicide by hitting myself in the head with a baseball bat. I loathe them - period. My preference would be that if I have to have an IV, I would have them start it, then immediately fill it up with thorazine or pentothal or something to knock me smooth out. The long-term goal would then be to wake me up five minutes after the IV was successfully removed. I don't hate many things, but I hate IV's.

I even tried, pitifully, to hold off getting it started. After all, I just GOT here, for cryin' out loud. Do we have to do this now, of all things?

The nurse looked at me, pointed to my chart and said, "Honey, with readings like those, I may need to get medicine into you quickly. And if I do, you just don't want me fumbling, trying to find a vein. If you're sick enough to be in a hospital, you're sick enough to need an IV line in."

And she pointed again to the listing of my vital signs, and said, "And I'm sorry, honey, but you do qualify to be here. Really."

At least she was sensitive about it, and was successful the first time she tried. The semi-sadistic triage nurse who first encountered me slapped the heart-monitor (EKG) connecting pads on my somewhat-hairy chest without benefit of shaving the spots first. So everytime I moved, one or more of the connector pads would be pulling chest-hair - and trust me, that is a serenity-killer, every single time.

After all the tests and the imaging and this and that, it ended up a 50/50 deal. I was not as bad as my doctor feared - but I am worse off than I imagined. And all those "someday" lifestyle changes? Eating less, doing some exercise every day, watching the vital-signs more, working less?

They started yesterday.

For two days after I left the hospital, I had a 24-hour heart-monitor. Now, I have a heart-rate monitor (like runners use), a new glucometer and an auto-inflating blood-pressure meter. If the heart-rate gets too high, or the BP gets too elevated, it's no longer a "white flag" situation - it's an "international-orange" flag. And I have started the daily stroll to the condo clubhouse, to the exercise bike and the treadmill - starting slowly, but starting. And the work situation? Well, I had a doctor's release for three days off - and my boss extended the offer to just take the week off. And I took him up on it.

I haven't signed back on to see what's waiting for me on Monday. I have no doubt the demands of the addicts will start as soon as I turn the silly thing on.

But I have my hospital arm-band taped to the side of my work PC's monitor - as a reminder.

And my left arm is still well-bruised from where the IV was, and there are still a dozen round bare spots on my chest where the pads were. (They itch, too.)

I've had the three-and-a-half days in the hospital, and four more days at home, to reflect on just what has been happening over this last year. The spiritual, emotional, mental and financial excuses for the insanity of which I've been a part. And the lessons - in all of those categories - that I've ignored to get to this point.

In the communities of recovery, what we call 'hitting bottom' is the process of realizing that you can put down the shovel - you don't have to dig the hole you're in any deeper. As a friend "in the rooms" is wont to say, "If you'll just put the shovel down, and look up, you'll see where you need to go - at least you'll see daylight, for a change!"

It's sad, too - both from a spiritual and a recovery standpoint - how easy it has been to set up worship of false gods - to violate the spirit of the 1st Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me." How many times have I heard the lesson - where your treasure (in my case, my time) is, there your heart will be. What a sad, sad waste.

But, if I am willing to trust that each day is indeed a new begininng, and that everything that does not kills us makes us stronger, then today is Christmas Day all over again. I have the gift of life, of love, of (relative) health, and hope. Yes, I'm stuck with a heart monitor, for a while - but I still have a working heart for it to monitor, as well. I have spent a long time walking a long way from God over the last year, it's true - but I also know that this God is one whose Son told the story of both the prodigal son and the prodigiously welcoming Father.

So today I am celebrating the light, rather than cursing darkness. I'm trying my best to make wiser choices, even as I acknowledge my seemingly innate ability to live and work stupidly.

Monday will bring a fresh set of challenges to this rediscovered faith - but, just for today, all is not "well" - but it's OK.

And that's enough.


Michelle said...

Sometimes, in our unswerving efforts to have "it all," we forget that having enough sure beats having nothing at all.

It sounds like you were given an opportunity to re-evaluate some priorities.

Erin said...

So relieved to hear that you're out of hospital... that you're looking toward the Light.

Much love to you... you remain in my prayers.

Debbie D. said...

I can so relate to this post. I've been reading/lurking for quite a while and praying that you would find balance with your crazy work life. I am in an IT position also, and frequently slip into work addiction - with similiar consequences (physical, emotional and spiritual). As my husband says (also in recovery): "Sometimes, God just needs to get our attention". I believe He may have gotten your attention with this hospital visit. My husband had his first heart attack at 46 and keeps telling me "I hope you don't need to hit the bottom I had to hit." I hope not too, so I am back at Step 1 with this issue and have committed to limiting my work to a max of 10 hours during weekdays (much better then the 13 to 20 hour days from last year) and no more than 4 hours over a weekend, making sure one of those days is a "sabbath" day (no work at all). I honestly don't know if I can keep my job with those hours, but I am trusting God and keeping Matthew 6:33 in mind as well.

Here's to new beginnings! I'll continue praying for you as well.

AnotherLostAngel said...

What's that expression? Oh Yeah......


As in, he seems to be taking care of you. I am not surprised to see the medical condition, Steve. You have put everyone ahead of you for a while. It's a good thing that you are OK and above ground suckin air. I think Father martin was correct when he said "we don't have our habits. Our habits have us!" Bad eating, no exercise, stress, worry, insane work addiction.....overweight...a proscription for disaster. I am not far behind you on those things...I dont have to worry about work addiction because I hate my job with a passion...It is something I give the absolute minimum effort to...I hold it in such contempt....and my weight is high for my height, and my cholesterol is high too. I statred exercising then quit when our holiday madness arrived....but I drink coffee like a fiend...1-1/12 pots a day...and I worry obsessively, as you know. So we both better find a way to take better care of ourselves.

Anyway, glad to see you got off with a warning ticket from god this time, steve. I would really miss you if you left us.


Michael said...

Yeah, what they said.

bobbie said...

wow - what a journey steve!

i am so glad you are safe and feeling more sound.

you'll be in my prayers that the evil empire will be history soon!

Tom Scharbach said...

A wake up call, to be sure, Steve. I'm thankful that you've been given the chance to treat your health issues with the seriousness you give to AA, and I hope that you will. At our age, dealing with health issues falls under "the courage to change the things I can" category. Its time.

Barry G. said...

I've been praying that when you were ready to listen to the message, that it wouldn't take a full blown heart attack and lifetime permanent damage to your vital organs. After my "bypass" surgery 10 years ago, the recovery group included about 6 or 7 youngsters (20's and early 30's) all of whom were diabetic. I had not previously linked that deadly disease with coronary disease. Our program has taught me to examine the many choices in my diet and regamine, and the new (sometimes [previously untried choices) were really quite good. It sounds as if you've again been given that gift of "extreme desparation", and you can do as before and expand on the changes that will bring (thru work) an even more beautiful set of "one day at a time" days to live and continue to be loved.