Friday, April 16, 2010

“Taking Responsibility—Finally.”

(This blog is third in a 4-part series, “Sharing 101”)

Monday morning, I was all set to get things squared away with my car. I knew the registration was past due, and figured that I probably had a few unpaid parking tickets on there that I’d have to deal with before I could get things in order. I called in to work and let them know I wouldn’t be in, grabbed a jacket, double-checked my bank account, and prepared myself for a long day at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I made it exactly half a block.

As I approached my car, I could see from a distance that I wasn’t going to the DMV anytime soon: I had an orange boot locked around the front left wheel. The notice said that I’d been locked down because of unpaid parking tickets. There was a phone number to call and information that it would cost $100 to get the boot off, on top of whatever other fines & fees I owed. I surprised myself, right there in that moment. I don’t think I actually laughed, but I did find it more than a little ironic that the day I chose to finally be responsible, to handle my business, and to take care of things I needed to take care of, was the day life chose to say, “oh yeah? Well I ain’t gonna make it so easy for ya.”

It did beg the question: how am I supposed to pay off these fines and fees if I can’t get to where I need to go to pay them? But that kind of thinking doesn’t do anything to get the problem solved. I sat down in my car and called the number. The automated answer service moved me from one pre-recorded option to another which all ultimately led to being placed on hold with an annoying music clip that replayed every ten seconds. I found another number and tried that, but only ended up in the same place. I tried going to their website, but wasn’t able to pay that way because I didn’t know how many unpaid tickets I had or what the citation numbers were. Soon enough, I realized that I was going to have to just walk down to city hall, about two miles away.

Did I mention it was raining?

I figured the line at city hall would be long, so I brought a book with me. The rain really wasn’t too bad, sort of light, but steady. Once there, I took my place in line, cracked open my book, and knew they’d get to me when they did. I think I was in line about an hour, maybe a bit longer. I wasn’t really counting. That’s some amazing progress right there. But what would be the point of seething? If I got to the window and started throwing my attitude, what would that accomplish? Nothing. This level of patience was totally foreign to me before I started my Recovery.

When I got to the window, I found out I actually owed over $800. There were nine violations, going back over two years to from before I got clean and sober. For someone about to be laid-off from his job, this is pretty bad news. But I had the money. I had to go to the bank and move a few things around, but I was able to pay off all my tickets and the fine for the boot, too. The most amazing part of it all was that my temper, at one time so volatile, never even raised a hair. Two years ago, if you’d told me I would handle a situation like this with a calm serenity, I would never in a million years have believed you. The truth? I hadn’t paid the parking tickets. I did owe them the money. And so I paid them. I wasn’t happy about it, but I wasn’t unhappy either. Through it all, I was pretty close to neutral: I did what I had to do, took care of business, was responsible. Later, when I was telling my mom about it, she started to fly off the handle with all kinds of comments and I just chuckled. It wasn’t even her problem, and she was far more upset about it than I was.

The next day, I went to the DMV, waited for an obscenely long time, and got my registration paid and current tags put on my car. The worst part of all of it wasn’t the long wait at city hall, or the $800 I had to pay out to the city, but the long wait in the chairs at DMV. Yet, even through that, I endured. When I got to the window, I didn’t throw a tantrum about the line. I didn’t complain to the woman working there about how I’d never received my renewal notice. Instead, I updated my address, paid my fee with late penalties, and breathed a sigh of relief. I could rest easier, knowing that everything about my car was up to date and in the clear. Being in Recovery, I have learned more about patience than there are words to describe.

The next day was Wednesday—tax day. I had run my taxes a few months back and knew that I owed federal-side. My parents had offered at the time to help me, and I took them up on their offer. They’ve been really great, actually. They know I’ll be out of work soon and have offered to do all they can to help me. They wrote me a check for the taxes I owed, and even gave me some extra cash to help me through since I’d paid so much money out to the city. I mailed out both federal and state taxes on time.

My folks didn’t call the money a gift or a loan, and they’re the kind of people that will most likely never ask for any of it back. But I know how much they’ve given me, and I’m keeping track of it. It’s important to me to be responsible now. That’s something else Recovery has done for me: changed my attitude about being responsible. These days, I want to take care of things, I want to handle the challenges life throws me. I’m able to accept help when I need it, too. In the old days, I probably wouldn’t have accepted my folks’ help. Or if I had, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to paying them back. Nowadays, I keep a budget. There’s a box in there, wired into all my various tracking formulae, that tells me exactly how much I owe my parents. I know that, when I’m able, I will pay them back. They know it, too, because they’ve seen—thanks to my Recovery—the demonstrations of my new sense of responsibility.

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