I sit here in Florida, with a pile of shells I’ve harvested from the shoreline. Some of them have holes, some of them are brown and white. There’s no rhyme or reason to this pile of shells, but they are mine nonetheless.
Most of you know my story. A great job and education, a beautiful teaching career, and I nearly brought the house of cards down on myself eight years ago. Because I’m in the program, and I have a wonderful sponsor, I tried to take direction from her when she told me, it’s important for your sobriety to leave that job.
I didn’t want to, but I also did not want to get drunk having had 25 years sober to that point. So I was willing. And I took a lot of bad jobs, many of which you can read about in my archives.
Up until last year, I had always had gainful employment from the time that I was 16 years old. I never went very long without a job, even when I was partying. In the spring of 2012, I lost my last job. From $85,000 a year to nothing. What a shock.
And my sponsor, she just kept telling me to put on my shoes and keep moving forward. I was in the depths of despair, none of which I have experienced before or since. Losing a job meant I was no longer a societal fixture. I had become part of the invisible.
By the time that I have been without work for a year, my sponsor told me,” I don’t care where you work, even if it’s Taco Bell. You need a job. Go to meetings at night where the people who work go to meetings.”
I was desperate. I would be up at three in the morning, not sleeping, wondering how to put food on the table. The summer before, for the first time in my life I had to go on welfare. My children were on food stamps and Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, and there was no shame like what I experienced at that point. Much of this I have written about in the last few years.
I had put in over 150 applications. I had gone on interview after interview, where I would walk in to a panel of people 20 years my junior, wondering if I knew my standards and my objectives and my goals. They would ask me stupid questions like what do you want students in your classroom to know about you? Or how can you be a benefit to our school community? Questions I had answered over and over for years.
And then one day in February, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I got a phone call out of the blue. A woman who I had worked for over 12 years ago called me and said, “I know you. Where do I know you from?” It turns out, when I was a new therapist, she use to schedule me to work weekends in a psychiatric facility And she wanted me back. I had interviewed and placed very high in this particular organization. I was just waiting for the call.
So this brings me to the pile of shells. How does somebody go from food stamps and welfare to this most beautiful resort on the coast of Florida? Only 10 days ago, my boss, after looking over my shoulder at this conference website said to me, “You should go.” And I thought… “yes”
Well, what living in the system taught me was how to pinch a penny. And it turns out, that without even realizing it, I had pinched a few pennies, during the days when my children were having cereal for dinner and someone would give us a box of strawberries for lunches. It turns out, that this experience changed me at such a level that I wasn’t even aware that I was saving and preparing for the future.
When I woke this morning, the Dodgers were in first place in the NL West, and there has been a wee baby Prince born in England. This morning I put my feet in the Atlantic Ocean. I collected a pile of shells.
And all that I can think of is that, I kept saying yes. I said yes to the third step, yes to my sponsor, yes to my God and yes to everything that was asked of me. I’m staying in a hotel room where one night’s stay costs the same as a month of food stamps I was getting in the beginning. I’m able to get Continuing Education units for a career that I have recently reclaimed. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been working at any job. I give my employer my full attention and my full day.
It is not lost on me that I was questioning God’s wisdom only a year ago. And I kept putting on my shoes because of you people. I kept moving forward applying and living as you suggested. I will be eternally grateful for the good people in the program who kept walking me to the center. For the old-timers who were on the edges gently moving me back toward truth.
When I get back, I will start training for my next half marathon. And I will try to give away what you have so graciously taught me and given me. I humbly thank you. You know who you are.