Thursday, September 06, 2018

180 Days - A Benchmark, And A Confession Or Two

Hello old blog! It's me, to report on something longer than 140 characters, or 280 I guess now. I used to come here often, especially leading up to, and through, the 2004 elections. Remember those, when Bush was re-elected and we all thought the sky was falling? Remember, in the end, when the owner/writer of http://www.johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com/ posted a picture of himself pouring out a 40 with "RIP America 1776-2004?" I can't find that picture anymore, or the never-finished thesis about Kerry's "doucheitude" and such. The internet forgets. Go there now and it's a site in Japanese, something about how to get a beautiful bust. Sorry, I'm lazy - I used Google translate, and that's what it said. I left it at that. Anyway, with my job over the past few years I know enough to look up the whois data and see that the site has indeed changed hands:

   Domain Name: JOHNKERRYISADOUCHEBAGBUTIMVOTINGFORHIMANYWAY.COM   Registry Domain ID: 116454295_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN   Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.rrpproxy.net   Registrar URL: http://www.key-systems.net   Updated Date: 2018-02-06T08:53:24Z   Creation Date: 2004-04-08T00:38:53Z   Registry Expiry Date: 2019-04-08T00:38:53Z   Registrar: Key-Systems GmbH   Registrar IANA ID: 269   Registrar Abuse Contact Email: abuse@key-systems.net   Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +49.68949396850   Domain Status: ok https://icann.org/epp#ok   Name Server: DANISZ.NLRS.JP   Name Server: DANJSZ.NLRS.JP   DNSSEC: unsigned   URL of the ICANN Whois Inaccuracy Complaint Form: https://www.icann.org/wicf/


I guess I was thinking of all of that 'cos my friend Mark texted me a youtube video of the Howard Dean scream. The internet doesn't always forget. But...I digress.

I'm reporting on a milestone I set for myself about six months ago: 180 days without booze.

That's beer, wine, liquor for all of you youngsters (but I may have taken two pulls and passed the pot pipe a couple of times during that period - but why do I always have to qualify this shit?). I don't think I've gone this long since college, and that would take me back to 1988, the year I graduated from High School and went on to UW Madison for my undergrad degree in English and Political Science. A long fucking time ago! I was blasting "Nothing's Shocking" from my dorm room back then to dampen the noise of Steve Miller's Greatest Hits from down the hall. And studying...once in a while. Again, I digress.

People have asked me why I decided to take such a long break from the drink - by the way, the break doesn't end today, I'm going to keep the streak going for a bit. I have said that it was, in part, for health reasons. I'd gotten some test results back in the spring of 2016, including a subsequent ultra sound, that pointed to early signs of alcoholic fatty liver. A wakeup call, yes, but in talking to others about it, the general sense was "yeah, a lot of people get that, you're probably okay." Not enough of a scare to get me to stop for 180 days, but something to keep an eye on. Which I didn't really, back in 2016, and things were about to get worse.

I've also said - "it was just starting to creep into my life more than I would like, and I needed to take stock." Also true. The crack of a can or the opening of a bottle, or the pour into a glass started a little bit earlier and ended a little bit later as the days progressed in 2016.

As spring turned into summer, there were a few episodes, from going out, to BBQs at home, where I lost track of how much I was actually drinking and passed out. The problem wasn't as much the passing out part as the things that I was saying prior to passing out, and not remembering what I said the next morning. And it just so happens one of those episodes - I consider this one of many - and rooted in the fact that I was unusually self absorbed at that time - took place on a very pivotal weekend for our family. It happened during our trip to Yosemite, which was in honor of Kiera's brother Ryan, who passed away 20 years ago from that time. The Yosemite trip was planned by Kiera's brother Gavin, as Yosemite was one of the last, if not the last, place that Gavin saw his brother before he passed away. We were all to take a challenging hike, as they did 20 years ago, in memory of Ryan.

It was not to be for me. July 3rd was when we were to take the hike. July 2nd was a full day of drinking. The hard stuff. Whiskey. Up until those recent years I had shunned hard liquor mostly because I had said that I "knew myself too well" and thus would stick to beer and wine so it wouldn't be too much of a problem. How's that for alcoholic's logic. Day turned to night, peppered with (what I probably thought were counter) insults towards my wife, when asked to do things. I had felt, in my state of mind, that she was "coming at me" in the tone of voice she took towards me when asking me to do things. That state of mind was not new, mind you, but amplified by the alcohol. I said many things that I don't remember. Among them: "I didn't get that memo" when asked if I was to help put Brenna to bed (I think). Everyone went to bed, I stayed up by the fire in what could only be described as drinking alone, contemplating....what? Pleas from Kiera to go to bed. Be present for her, especially on this tough occasion. No, I'm all right, I snapped.

Next thing I know, it is morning, my head hurts, I'm sweating, sitting upright in the driver's seat of our car, bandage on my upper lip. I had passed out, lurched forward, fell out of my chair, and cut my lip on a jagged rock. It needed stitches, but we were nowhere near a hospital and who wanted to take me to the ER anyway? Our friend Jeff helped patch me up and carry me to the car. There's the doghouse, and then there's 6 months in the hole. This feeling was like 6 months in the hole.

Over the course of the next weeks and months, many arguments, but finally, after years of turning down marriage counseling, I got to work finding a marriage counselor who could help us. Or maybe me, if our marriage was past the point of no return. After all, was it too late, that only now, after rock bottom, should I turn to help? Only after being "coerced," in a way? She'd been telling me for three years. Did I remember? Did I care?

Many arguments about that and a whole variety of other reasons why I was not putting much into this relationship - a relationship of 20 years to that point. Did I mention the fact that we had only been dating 3 months when her brother died from depression - taking his own life? Voices of resentment in my head out loud, telling me that all I'll be remembered for was how I handled things on the 20 year "anniversary" of Ryan's death, not how I handled things at the time it happened and in all the years in between. As I would learn, we all have these little voices of resentment in our heads. What alcohol does is hand a tiny little bullhorn to every tiny little voice that would otherwise go unheard, most often unheard even in the subconscious, perhaps, and give it voice to the conscious, loud and clear, and often right straight out of your mouth.

To counseling we went. And still I drank. And passed out on occasion, same pattern, same result. And I couldn't blame hard liquor. It was beer. More counseling. I'd never do it again. And then I did it again. Finally, on March 11th, 2018, the morning after an evening spent at a work event for Kiera at Cleophus Quealy, a brew pub in Industrial San Leandro, I wake up and find Kiera and the kids are gone.

And then, Kiera came back alone. "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result." It was an ultimatum. If it happened again, we were finished. "Your own daughter asked me, 'is daddy drunk?'"

The thing about quitting drinking, even for a month - it's hard to get it going in the early going. There's always something that comes up, some occasion, some bad day at work event, something with the family back east, something stressful where you're like - "well, I can't start now, this is coming up," or "I need a drink to take the edge off of this horrible day." Would I have had the strength to take that first step, on my own, without Kiera's ultimatum? I've always said I'd stay away from hard liquor because I knew myself too well. But did I? Did I ever? Or anymore?

The answer is no, I don't think I would have taken the first step on my own. And I would have relapsed again. And by now I'd be living in some crap apartment somewhere or on someone's couch, or worse. I needed help. Even if it came from an ultimatum. Intervention might be a better word.

I took the first step. 9 days in, we had our next marriage counseling session. I said then what I believe now - that I have to go through with quitting drinking, for 3 months ("6" Kiera reminded me)...all right, 6 months, and if we still have the same arguments, resentments, fights, misunderstandings and so on, then we know alcohol isn't the reason for why we're fighting all the time. Why my body language says "fuck you, I don't care," or why your voice says "are you that fucking stupid" even though you might be asking me the most basic question.

Another way of putting this too is, I have to do this for my own sake, as well as for ours. Or it won't work.

The first couple of weeks sucked. That very next weekend, there was a family funeral, or celebration of life, of someone very dear to us. It was at Kiera's Uncle Noel and Aunt Katherine's, so I knew the wine would be flowing, as usual, and some top shelf wine also, as befits the occasion. I was thinking the most about the alcohol and not as much about our family. It had gotten to the point where all I thought about, and planned around, was when I'd be able to take that first drink.

Now - I was functional. I hadn't been drinking 24/7, after all. But it had crept further and further into my life, into my sense of being, into who I was. Would I need to go to AA meetings? I left the door open, but I didn't feel like doing that right away. I made it through that first week, the worst part of the whole thing.

I began feeling better, after the first couple of weeks. I had met a fellow soccer dad on Brenna's soccer team, and fellow musician, it turns out, Ian. Ian hadn't been drinking in 18 years. I went to his house to finish up some trumpet session work for an EP he was working on, but the majority of the time we talked about the alcohol. Ian was the right man for the right time in my life to help me through a critical juncture. Offered a meeting with chill people who weren't all into God. Mentioned a book called "Dharma Punx." Meanwhile, our marriage counselor also recommended a book called "Recovery 2.0." I read both. I came to the conclusion that those dudes were way further down at their lowest than I had been. But I didn't rule out the 12 steps or meetings or the rest of it. In the mean time, I kept going. I was building a streak, and my stubborn streak kicked in. I later said to Ian, after about a month in, that I felt "mellower" which I wasn't expecting. Ian said "in the program we call that the 'pink cloud.' It usually lasts about 6 months.'" I said to myself at the time, "It's a good thing it lasts six months, because that just so happens to be my deadline for stopping alcohol. I'll have a drink maybe in September."

It got a little easier and easier as the weeks passed. It's been 6 months now. Well, almost. Technically, the 6th month will fall on September 11th, of all days. But my initial goal (at counseling, in my head, before I was corrected, was 90 days, then quickly 180). 180 days is here. Today. September 6th, 2018. Nathan's birthday. Also the birthday of our friend, Amber, and my old friend, Chris. My question is, is the pink cloud still here? I finally looked up "Pink Cloud" the other day, because I wanted to know what it really meant. The gist of it is an irrational exuberance of being newly clean and sober, and feeling that you've got this thing licked, to a level of hubris where relapse is a real danger.

I do feel mellower, which I wasn't expecting - I was expecting to have more anxiety about life, work, and all the rest, without a crutch to take the edge off. The opposite is true. And it came in handy for many things happening in my life at the same time: Promotion at work, family elder care crisis and sibling rivalry crisis back east. A trip for work that ended up in Nashville on my birthday. Trip to WI and NY in July. Trip to North Carolina for work in August. Many temptations, many tests, and I passed all of them.

But is that all because of the pink cloud? I don't think it's been the pink cloud, because, though I've been pleasantly surprised to learn that I had no physical DTs in the first week, and have been able to go six months stopping on my own without meetings, it's not like I did this without help. I've had help from a lot of people along the way. But the real turning point for me was one day, about maybe 2 1/2 months in, when Kiera, out of the blue, turned to me and said "I like you better without drinking." "You're thoughtful, dialed in." Hon, I'm not sure you know how much those words meant to me then, or mean to me now, but they are what truly turned the corner for me then, and sustains me this very moment, as I continue on the sober train. I don't think it's the pink cloud anymore because I'm afraid to find out what might happen if I try and take that first drink once again. I don't want to know what happens right now. I'd rather feel THIS.

Love, me

Here's a selfie, of me, dressed up slightly (which just means no ratted out hoodie on this day) to celebrate this occasion, in the carpool this morning on the way to work.


I hope my honesty doesn't hurt - nothing can hurt or do more damage than I've already done. I hope I can help someone who's in my particular track: Not the lowest of the low points in life by any means,  as some have gone, but pretty damn low for me, and now coming out the other side, relatively intact. Also: my blood pressure reading the other day was 127/69. That's considerably lower than 147/90, no?

Friday, May 04, 2018

It's alive!

Ye Olde Blog Post lives on. Will there be a countdown to shutdown? Lord knows, but since the blogosphere erupted and, thereafter, an increasingly ephemeral landscape of social media, how will all of our musings be preserved fifty, one hundred years from now? I'm sure smarter people are already looking into this.

In the meantime, I'll just mark this spot for now to keep it current. And so goes day #55 of sobriety. Cheers!

Friday, July 22, 2016

An Old Turning Point

Yesterday afternoon I got the package of the old Akai FX-F31 cassette deck that I used to own many moons ago, the same model I purchased via eBay. It was an inspiration purchase, or perhaps out of nostalgia, or a sense of self preservation. Recently, I went through a bin of old cassette tapes, and in the process of finding some mix tapes I was looking for, I also discovered my old childhood tapes I thought I had lost. The earliest of these dates back to 1980, when I was 10 years old. I had had a dedicated box for them, but as it turns out -- about 10 years ago, in the process of a move -- I had gone through those, along with many other cassettes that I no longer needed because I either had the CD, the LP, or the Mp3 copy of the record I had taped, and ended up using the empty cases of those for the childhood tapes that were of cheaper quality, thus never having cases. And I integrated those with the rest of the cassettes I kept, the vast majority of which were band rehearsals, or song ideas on guitar, fragments, snippets, and god knows what else. Ever the self-documentarian, even at a young age, I also discovered a recording of myself reflecting on those tapes, and my childhood, family, friends, things I was feeling, where I hoped I was going, feelings of loss - two of my grandparents had just passed away in the course of the previous year - and I had just arrived in Villa Park, Illinois, after leaving Oshkosh in what turned out to be the last time I would see my Grandma Nev before she passed away two months after this recording. It was January 8, 1991, about 3:00 in the morning. And I went on for about 45 minutes. I have to say, it was therapeutic - I'm glad I did that. I don't think I am capable of rambling or ruminating alone with a microphone for that long anymore. But I realized in a way it was probably a message to my older self, and I even said so at the time - having an imagined conversation with myself, or anyone among my family or friends who might some day be interested. This was 25 years ago now. I definitely sound younger, but more self aware than I was expecting. It was right before a major turning point in my life. That summer I would meet someone that would eventually - albeit indirectly - help lead me out here to the SF Bay area two years later with my dear friend, Jason Ries. And I can't help but think about why, at this time, would all of this present itself, and I would be compelled to choose to rediscover and listen to this particular tape and passage. Time will tell.

Friday, September 13, 2013

About my last two posts: God what boring posts! Must be middle aged senility starting to kick in. I'm sitting in my office on a Friday afternoon and much of the crew around me are employed in shooting each other with nerf rockets. It's that kind of a day. This is usually about the time the alcohol cart comes swinging around, bottles and glasses clinking together. My friend and colleague, Mark and I have created a little vernacular around this. One Friday around 2pm or so I said I was ready for the clink. Later a signal was borne out of this with a slight nod to Hogan's Heroes: When one of us is ready for a drink, we now just call out "Shultz." Clink = (Col) Klink ergo Shultz. At the old gig it was "Yar," the signal that it was time to go to the pirate (Il Pirata). But when you work for a company that regularly stocks its fridges with alcohol, we haven't bothered to find a pirate in our new surroundings. Also, what's a "pirate" emoticon? For now I've been settled on just a semicolon: ;- but someone with a better brain might help.

Anyway, SHULTZ!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On the subject of support and "relationship management"

While I was digging for some old lyrics, which I couldn't find, I stumbled upon this draft I was asked to submit on behalf of my boss, or more precisely, my boss's boss, at my previous gig. The assignment was to present my thoughts on "four pillars" of relationship management. The pillars were spelled out to me and I ran with them from there. I guess it's my best expression of what I've been doing in one day gig or another for a bit now. And I feel proud to have injected the term "mouse fart" into what otherwise is probably boring reading for the majority of humankind. So for that reason I will submit this to you, dear reader, in all of its glory and splendor:

Effective Relationship Management
Bill Swan – Technical Account Manager, [The previous company I worked for that dare not speak of]

Four pillars:

Responsiveness

Engagement

Prioritization

Follow Through

An organization is only as good as its support, and great support begins with managing relationships with customers effectively. There are many components to this, but today I want to talk about four: Responsiveness, Engagement, Prioritization and Follow Through.

Responsiveness

First and foremost: Show your customers you have a pulse. I think it’s important to respond to requests as quickly as you can, even if it’s only to let them know that you’ll get back to them shortly after you’ve had a chance to review the query. There is the auto-response in the CRM, of course, but I believe it is more important to respond with an additional message suitable to your personal style. First impressions are important, and there’s no reason to keep your customers waiting needlessly, or to allow them any inkling that their question or issue has entered an automated black hole. Yes, there are Service Level Agreements that can dictate the expected time of response based on specific tiered levels of support (As in: How much money they pay for support), and those levels should be set to a realistic target that accounts for spikes in customer activity, resource allocation etc. But then you should do this: Proceed to blow these targets out of the water every time. It is better to undersell the response time and consistently over-deliver than the other way around.
As a member of support, how do you do that, especially if you are getting backed up with customer requests? Consider this: It doesn’t take much to simply let them know you’re there, that you are indeed a living, breathing human being and you will be with them shortly. More often than not, the recipient will thank you for such a quick response. Once you’ve got them hooked, you can reel them in when you’re ready.

Engagement

Responsiveness leads to engagement. And engagement can mean a number of different things. You are essentially at the stage of coming to an agreement with a client to be with them at an agreed upon time to tackle the issue with your undivided attention. And as you are engaged, you are feeling out the customer and getting to know their communication style (this can be written or verbal). You engage in a meaningful conversation about the issue at hand, and the goal should be that, within reason, you can be yourself and not rely on canned responses. Some of this comes more easily as you gain the experience with and knowledge of the products or services you are supporting. There’s nothing like knowing the answer to give you confidence in dealing with customers, especially demanding ones. However, you can still establish a rapport with them by staying relaxed and focused, and being willing to tell the customer if you don’t know a particular answer to an issue or a specific component of the issue, that you will be able to find that answer. This tells that customer you are engaged. If it’s apparent the user has a sense of humor, don’t be afraid to tap into it (assuming you have a sense of humor too). Finally, engagement also means honoring your commitments. If you’ve set a deadline or goal and you think the timeline might slip, engage and let them know. That should be common sense, right?

Prioritization

Tackle the critical issues first, of course. But during your engagement with the critical issues, you can simultaneously cherry pick the low hanging fruit. In other words, if you’re in a long troubleshooting session on a challenging issue, inevitably there will be lulls (such as a re-installation or reboot). And during those lulls you can either sit and watch the paint dry, log onto facebook or you can lop off some easy questions or engage with clients that you know aren’t in a big hurry to let them know you’ll be “on it” soon.
After the critical issues, I usually engage first with any client that hasn’t been in touch for a while. If you’ve been in support for any reasonable length of time, you come to learn that the old adage “No news is good news” ain’t so. No news is no news, and while that could mean anything, it won’t hurt to summon a little paranoia and make sure you keep the quiet clients happy when they re-engage. It may be a client who is perfectly happy or unusually competent and only thinks to contact the vendor when there is an issue of real significance…but it also could be a client who is thinking of switching vendors. Think of these erstwhile quiet clients as a new customer. If you keep the mindset that you want to give this customer a great first impression, then you’ve done your job.
While we are boldly moving into a brave new world of collaboration and communication outlets that purportedly will supplant email, the simple fact of the matter is: Email isn’t going away tomorrow. Manage your inbox. Different people have different styles, but I am a filer. Personally I think it’s much more manageable if you create a system of categorization for incoming messages based by client, priority, product or other topic, whatever makes the most sense. Part of good prioritization involved getting into the habit of being highly organized. Knowledge work is all about organization: It’s what we do! Have some process of categorization, though. You never know when you’re going to need to know your History.

Follow Through

Once you have an engagement, it goes without saying that you need to back up your promise for elaboration or getting back to the client. Use any means necessary to keep yourself to it. Calendars and reminders are there for a reason! Even if there is an issue that you believe to have been resolved with a client, follow up and make sure no other questions have come up and to confirm that the issue is indeed closed. There are processes that can be built for this based on SLA, but I would also add the personal touch here.
Proactive communication is also part of follow through, especially if you are managing a set group of clients. You’ll want such communication to be meaningful and consistent. A new product release announcement is one example, and another is a periodic check in to make sure the client is doing okay, particularly with clients who haven’t been in touch. I would contact these clients individually, based on their communication style. Email is okay for some clients. Others like to chat on the phone, so be mindful of what method best suits each client. Do not send an email blast to all clients in the bcc field or through a canned CRM message all at once. Not only does it lack the personal touch I’ve been talking about, but it might just end up in the recipient’s SPAM filter.
Finally, document everything you do, every message, call or other means of communication should be put into whatever CRM you are using in a clear, organized and easy to read fashion. Even if you think it’s a mouse fart, document it. Think of how you would want to pick up a case where someone else left off, or what would happen if you were suddenly hit by a truck. Document, document, document -- rinse, repeat. You’ll want to cover yourself, too. If anything regarding an interaction with a client ever comes into question, you’ll be able to cite when, where and how the information was originally conveyed. Make sure there is a date and time stamp included in any documentation, such as if you are copying an email message or thread. Including the message header has saved me a number of headaches over the years (Hint: forward the email and then copy/paste from that message so you get the top header. If you were the last one to communicate, go to your sent items and get the header from there). Good documentation is probably the most important element of follow through. You can save this part for down time if things get busy.

Summary

The world of support is often reactive, that is inevitable. It’s human nature for clients to contact you more frequently as a member of support when something bad has happened. You don’t often get a message out of the blue from folks telling you what a great job you’re doing (except maybe during the holiday season), but if you keep these four principles in mind --Responsiveness, engagement, prioritization and follow through—chances are, when your clients get asked about the quality of support they receive, they’ll have nothing but kind words to say. And if they’re still unhappy, they’ll probably blame the product or how much it costs. But you can go home at night and sleep well knowing you’ve done your job.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

90 days into the new gig

After seven years working for the same company (one that was bi-polar, slowly dying on the vine), I started a new gig at the end of April (a company that is growing lightning fast with maybe an ache or pain or two). The process to get here was long and arduous -- I had to fight a bit for it -- but I landed and I can honestly say I feel invigorated -- mainly because the role I am in now is the first of its kind, and I've long felt that I do best when I am allowed the opportunity to carve my own niche and find and manage work in my own way. Some people have said "I don't envy you, because you get all the problems and then the outcome of some of them are beyond your direct control." Truth is, I see myself as a translator. Not between actual languages but nuances of our own language. Engineers speak in one nuance, salespeople and customers and customer service reps speak in others. And each group has its own repository of information where they log their daily work - and I have access to all of it, a whiff of the omniscient narrator, perhaps, which is a rare position to be in. In some ways, I hope to be a diplomat, to help each group gain a better understanding of the others, and I am learning a ton in the process. Along the way the goal is to help people solve a problem or find a solution (depending on how you view the 1/2 glass). But it's also about managing relationships, helping shape expectations, and also rolling up my sleeves for a little grunt work which I don't mind. I feel lucky to have been given a lot of leeway to do my job as I see fit -- I do not have to spend a lot of time telling people what I'm doing, I can spend that time actually doing it. Although I am among the older side in age in this group, I am not made to feel that way. I don't know if that's because I don't come off as being that much older, or I'm just a late bloomer. I'm feeling this way because I just had my first quarterly review, and there were no negatives except that I may have to be nudged to say no to a few things in due course. I am also just happy to know that even in moments of self doubt, complacency and a fear of advancing age, I can still shake some shit up.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013