Retirement Options

I’m thinking that I might be in a good place to evaluate the last three years of “retirement”. I put the quotation marks around the word because the context of retirement is so variable. Many look forward to traveling, having more time for a hobby they enjoy, or volunteering for worthy causes. I considered all of these as I neared the final work-day.

I always thought of retirement in terms of what I observed growing up in a lower-middle class white family in Southern California. My Grandfather worked for a large manufacturing contractor for over 40 years and retired with a nice pension. My Grandmother raised two kids with a violent alcoholic. In those days, domestic violence was never mentioned…neither was physical and sexual abuse of children.

Upon retirement, they bought a small mobile home in Orange County in the late 50’s. Grandma spent her time cooking, sewing, gossiping with the neighbors and looking after her Grandchildren when called upon. My Grandfather quit drinking, had a beautiful garden, smoked a lot, and listened to the Dodger games on the radio. Mostly I remember the silence between them.

As I was growing up, we went to Sunday dinner at their house after church. I loved my Grandmother, avoided my Grandfather for good reason, and rarely visited them after I left home at 18. I rarely visited my parents either, until my daughter was born.

My Dad retired early due to advancing Multiple Sclerosis. He had worked at a large Aircraft company for 30 years, and his union provided for him abundantly. My mother worked periodically, but her mental illness prevented her from enjoying any career opportunities. She was a compulsive cleaner, with a debilitating germ phobia. She was one of the first to be prescribed a new wonder drug called Prozac. They also purchased a mobile home, after retirement – first in Orange County and then in Hemet, CA. They became very involved in their church and traveled as often as my Dad’s illness permitted. They had great friends and a lot of fun. When my sister and I started our families, they enjoyed the kids whenever we visited. My mother was especially close to my daughter and indulged her much more than the other grandchildren.

Out of the blue, my mother took her life. My dad was beside himself with anger and grief. He met a retired Army nurse and married her not two years after Mom’s death. She took great care of him, and they spent most of their time watching TV and going to doctor appointments.

Well I certainly did not picture myself in a mobile home watching TV all day, nor did I have travel destinations in mind for my retirement years. I did not want to emulate any part of my family of origin. I did not, expect that I would be a full-time caregiver for three of my grandbabies!
I actually have the best “retirement” job ever. I still have a significant ministry in my church, and the wonderful opportunity for what I often refer to as a “do-over”. I’m having a blast actually, and very much enjoying this season if my life. I feel blessed to be part of influencing the next generation, while enjoying the fruit of my own parenting.

My kids will probably never know or experience a “pension”. They certainly are not counting on Social Security. Statistically, they are the first generation in American History whose standard of living will not be better than their parents, nor will they live as long! I’m sad for that. Hopefully I can leave them enough to help out with college expenses and a bit of a nest-egg for their retirement years. They are sure providing me with a rich retirement of my own.

“Only” Ten – the sting and benefit of Relapse.

Today I am 10 years “sober” from acting out in my primary addiction. I say primary because I have had a life-long addictive cycle of binging and purging on activities, food, substances and people. But my primary default behavior is self-pleasure, whatever form is handy.

Addiction is usually thought of as alcohol or drug dependency, maybe adding gambling or sexual addiction (fastest growing addiction, btw). Some confess to food addiction but have no idea how to recover even if they are passively in the slow suicide of diabetes, tobacco-related heart disease, cancer or starving themselves to death. . Maybe the latest patch, pill, diet or surgery will give a quick-fix?

In my experience, and those with whom I associate, no quick and lasting fix exists. Only the slow, step-by-step, one day at a time, cinch by the inch plodding yields the reward of honest sobriety. Oh there are plenty of “top that testimony” dreamers out there, many who have been “delivered” by the laying on of hands or spiritual visitations. No judgment here – well maybe a little. Maybe some envy thrown in…

And then there are those who proudly say they have or can stop on their own. Trouble is, they can not stay stopped for very long.

Relapse was the key to my own recovery. I’ve been told that relapse starts long before the actual event. For me it began as I was entering my fifth year of recovery from addiction. Expected and required of Christians, especially of those in professional ministry, I mistakenly assumed God would magically take the obsession away if I had enough faith to believe God for healing. If I prayed enough, read and studied the Bible enough and served others enough, surely I would be healed and free. Disappointment over my powerlessness to be sin-free was the obsession behind the shame that drove me very close to ending my life.

So with 4 years of relatively joyful recovery I grew complacent. I went to my weekly meeting, but only to do my duty – not to work on progressing through the principles. I allowed “small” compromises in what I viewed, with whom I spent time, and more importantly how I allowed resentment to grow as I judged the motives of others.

So my 10-year celebration of honest sobriety collides with the shame of relapse more painful than I care to admit. Yet, the vivid memory of working two years to earn a sixty-day chip strengthens my resolve to never again compromise my relationship with Jesus Christ (the One and only true Higher Power) and to stay actively accountable with my Sponsor and recovery group. I have come to believe that after my relationship with God, sobriety is my most important priority; for without sobriety I have no capacity for honest relationship or purpose.

Recovery is work, and the work never stops. For me it took several meetings a week, medication and weekly therapy. I had to make the daily decision to surrender to whatever sobriety required. It’s work, but sooo worth it.

Tonight I am grateful to say, “Hi, my name is Connie and I am a child of God in recovery. I celebrate 10 years clean and free from addiction and compulsive behaviors. I am also careful to remember that I am always vulnerable and tempted to slack off. The thought of relapse puts me in the right frame of mind again no matter what is happening in my life.
“Thanks for letting me share.”

Burnout/Balance

I’m re posting a comment I made in a friend’s blog to remind me of my tendency to do the wrong thing — even in retirement!
“…I have the desire to do what is right but I cannot carry it out. ” Rom. 7:15
So do I leave houses and land and spouse, and children to devote all my time to ministry. Do I place my health at risk by long hours of service to others without self-care? Do I devote all my income to serve the poor when my credit card balances (and stress) continue to rise trying to meet the needs of my family?
These are personal situations I experienced early in professional ministry. Balance never entered my thinking. Whole-hearted commitment required every sacrifice – seeking first the kingdom and the promise that God would take care of everything else. My mentors would shout “vacation? How can you think of vacation when people are perishing all around you and headed for hell?”

What I failed to consider was that my perspective was flawed, my character defects colored my decisions. I saw God as a Tyrant-King who required continuous unquestioned obedience. I had to be a willing servant or I was rebellious and unfit for the Kingdom.
As my marriage and relationship with my children declined, I spiraled into physical burn-out and clinical depression.

In recovery, medical intervention and therapy, I learned that neglecting my physical and emotional needs put me at risk – so off balance that I needed medication. For me, rest, order and balance became a lifeline through which Jesus began a work of grace that saved my life, my marriage and my relationships. Like Elijah of old, I needed food, rest and care. I needed boundaries and balance.

Perhaps others have a special dispensation of grace that allows for the scales of balance to tip in their favor. Yet it is crucial, in my experience, to consider and solicit accountability for life-balance as well as spiritual growth in order to sustain a healthy and long-term ministry throughout my life.