“…resulting in the elimination of your position…” These words, echoing in my head, cutting through the fog of confusion and what-the-fuckery. “…the difficult decision to terminate your employment…”
This week I got notice of some layoffs at the company where I’ve worked for the last 13 years. More specifically, my position has been eliminated. I’m being laid off. Shock, sadness, fear – all the usual emotions one feels at times like this, yeah – check.
I’m not angry, though. I get that it’s a business decision, and I’ve been around long enough to see this a number of times. Sometimes I was even the one on the other end of the call, delivering the bad news to one of my team members. It’s no fun for anyone, but such is the nature of at-will employment. This time, I was just one of the unlucky ones.
No grudges against my company – I maintain it’s been the greatest place to work, and I believe in their vision. I chose to work there, I believe I did good work for them, and they compensated me well during my employment. I was a grateful employee during my entire run with them – I will remain grateful for the experience.
But man, it was a crappy way to start the day – and it got worse.
Now, you may or may not know I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. You also may or may not know I’ve been in recovery for a while, and have been sober for a little over 8,000 days. Sometimes people will ask me, “Why do you still go to meetings?” and I will give them some shorthand answer about carrying the message to others who suffer. But the truth is, I go to meetings because –although I have been (as the saying goes) “relieved of the obsession to drink”– I am still plagued by the “obsession to think”.
Left to my own devices, I become a negative thought machine – my view of the world can become terribly dark in short order. And when I’m not actively participating in my recovery, I start to believe what I think – and next thing you know I’m broken down at intersection of Chaos Ave. & Misery Blvd.
I liken it to having a mischievous little devil on my back who is constantly whispering troubling thoughts into my ear from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. Practicing some spiritual principles helps to render that devil mute and he goes away. Each day I have the opportunity to send him packing; some days I’m more successful than others.
When life throws a curve ball, however, that little devil thrives, and let me tell you — this week he has been working overtime.
After receiving the news, that little demon – LD for short – started right in. Here’s a sampling of his messages to me in the first hour alone:
The company discovered what a fraud you are.
They are glad to be rid of you.
You’re never gonna find another job.
You’re gonna need to sell all your shit and move.
(probably out of state, probably somewhere cold and crime-ridden)
You’re too old, no one else is gonna hire you now.
(you’re fat too)
You’ll be homeless in three months.
Your kids are gonna starve.
(and they’ll be homeless too, by the way…)
Nobody likes you, nobody has ever liked you.
Man, you are worthless.
Maybe you should just burn it all down.
(Also, he’s a dark little fucker, did I mention that?)
I checked in with my team members one by one, as I knew they’d be devastated by this change – even the ones who dodged the ax were feeling some “survivor’s guilt”, and I did my best to provide support where I could. I was touched by their concern for me. They all know I’m a single dad and the breadwinner for my little family. Their care for me was evident, and I was reminded how lucky I’ve been to be genuinely fond of the people I’ve worked with. It also increased the sadness I felt, knowing we were at an end.
(The LD started whispering in my ear that they didn’t really care, that nobody cared about anything but their own situation. When I ignored that message, he started in on how I’d let them down as their manager, how I didn’t lead them very well, how it’s my fault they were let go… I’m telling you, this demon is persistent in his assholery.)
Then I checked in with a number of people whose wisdom and support I’ve relied on for years. They told me all the things I’ve said to others when it was their turn to deal with job-related fears — that everything will be okay, that I’ve gone through big changes like this before and ended up better off as a result, that things like this are best handled one day at a time, to trust in my Higher Power… Eventually I saw I was being given an opportunity to really practice what I’ve preached for years.
(After this, LD was strangely silent – probably because he’s driven away by the light, and my spiritual advisers only deal in the light.)
I did what people in recovery do at times like this: I chose to go to a meeting. I checked the directory, found one that started in half an hour, and drove across town. I got there with a few minutes to spare – only to find out that the directory was wrong and there wasn’t a meeting at that time anymore. I left there frustrated, but trying to keep my perspective.
(LD spoke right up at this point and cast all kinds of judgment on the people who create and maintain the meeting directory, deeming them idiotic and worthless, and tried to suggest I call them and give them hell… I ignored him and he eventually shut up.)
I went home and spent the afternoon on the couch. My mind wandered, so I turned the TV on, but couldn’t focus on anything for more than a few minutes. I felt adrift. Although I didn’t feel much like going out, I had tickets to the Hollywood Bowl that night. My sister got them months ago, and she was accompanying my son and I to see Florence & the Machine. When she arrived, she was excited for the concert – then I darkened the mood with my news. We talked while waiting for my son to arrive, and eventually I thought the show might just be what I needed to get my mind off my troubles.
Unbeknownst to me, my eighteen year old son chose this day to try an edible (food infused with marijuana) for the first time. And because he’s a novice, he was unaware that one should never eat the entire edible at once. By the time we got to the Bowl he was, as the kids say, tripping balls. Of course the LD jumped right in:
This is all your fault.
He’s gonna be a drug addict just like you.
He’s probably gonna die.
If you’d been a better father this wouldn’t have happened.
You can’t even hold a job – remember how you got laid off this morning?
By the way, nobody says ‘tripping balls’ anymore.
(and you’re still fat.)
My son could not bring himself to go into the show – he made it as far as getting out of the car, then proceeded to sit down in the parking lot. So, I sent my sister into the show and I sat in the parking lot while my son went on a drug trip.
He would get panicky and remorseful, and I’d have him look me in the eyes. He’d then get strangely calm as he listened to me tell him that he was going to be okay, that the fear and panic was all in his head, he just needed to breathe and ride it out, and everything will look better in the morning. Eventually he puked and that seemed to have a good effect – he crawled into the back of my car and fell asleep.
I wanted to ensure his psychic safety, so I stayed in the car with him. Since I was missing the concert, I played some Florence & the Machine on Spotify, and I sat there with him for the next hour and a half, checking on him every so often, offering him sips of water and seeing how he felt. Once he woke up and, after apologizing profusely, said “you have my permission to hold this against me forever”. I chuckled and assured him that he would be okay. I knew he’d be fine physically – and I knew the remorse that awaited him the next day. I reminded myself for the millionth time: my kids have to make their own mistakes and find their own path. As their Dad, I just get to support them when they need it, model behavior that works, and love them no matter what.
When it was clear he was sleeping it off, I left the car and made my way into the concert, which was more than half over by then. As I walked up the hill to the Hollywood Bowl the LD tried his best to get my attention:
He’s gonna die you know.
You’re gonna come back and find him dead – he’ll probably swallow his tongue.
This is all your fault.
He’s gonna piss himself and your car is gonna smell like pee forever.
How selfish are you to go into this show while your son needs you.
He’s gonna be a junkie.
You’re probably gonna need to have him committed.
You’re still out of a job, by the way, don’t forget that.
And you wouldn’t be breathing so heavily walking up this hill if you weren’t so fat.
Then I thought about what I said to my son before I left – a dad’s words of assurance to his child, who was bound in confusion and so much fear. The same was true for me – the fear I have around finding a job, the anxiety about my future – it’s all in my head, I’m actually okay, I just need to breathe and ride it out, and everything would look better in the morning.
This is an opportunity to experience faith instead of fear. I’ve always been given what I needed, I’ve always survived every “terrible event” that has happened. I have a perfect track record of surviving each day. Every time I’ve been faced with scary changes, I’ve ended up all right. Every. Single. Time. I know I’ll be okay – I just don’t know what “okay” looks like yet. Now is time to be guided by the light of the spirit and not that little devil on my back that likes to put its bony fingers over my eyes and tell me all is darkness.
When I finally reached my seat (a little more out of breath than I’d like to admit – the seats were reeeeally high up there), I was able to enjoy the last hour of the concert (which, by the way, was stunning in its power and beauty – if you ever get a chance to see Florence & the Machine, go!). And as if some benign messenger were delivering a reminder to me, I was struck by the lyrics of the song that closed the show, which happens to be my favorite song by this artist:
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues drawn
It’s always darkest before the dawn
So I shook him off, and I danced, and when I got back to the car, my son was still sound asleep. The night ended, a new day began, my son woke and vowed to never do drugs again, and life continues to move forward. I still don’t know what’s going to happen with my employment situation, but that’s all right. I know what I need to know:
I’m okay, the fear is all in my head, I just need to breathe and ride it out. Everything will look better in the morning.