My Unemployed Life: Getting Sober and Finding a Way

Getting Sober I joined the ranks of the unemployed at age 62 in a market with little demand. A variety of different approaches led me to an unexpected discovery.

There is no way to trace it, find a beginning or even a warning. It simply occurred, that one day, at age 62, I found myself unemployed in a collapsing economy. I was able to take an early retirement of $600 a month, I updated my resume and listed my home for sale with a Realtor.

The resume began "Martin B. Rivers, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.," and went on to list a most impressive 28-year history of accomplishments in the field of professional social work. But that was before my midlife crisis, divorce, losing my professional license, attending Alcoholics Anonymous, and undergoing an extended rehabilitation for my alcohol addiction. I was unemployed, but healthy and ready to work.

Try, try again

Now sober (and relatively sane), I set about earning a livelihood, determined not to be discouraged, regardless of the outcome. My initiation into the world of the unemployed began when Western Sizzler restaurant denied me a job as dishwasher, stating I was "overqualified." It happened.

Not to be discouraged, I applied for positions in rehabilitation centers and legal offices, placed my applications at various temporary agencies and registered with the Department of Employment. I faxed, e-mailed, called and made personal appearances.

There were jobs available. Factory assembly, tool and die, welding, warehouse management, food-service supervisor, outside sales, financial analyst and others, all for which I felt I had no ability and no qualifications.

Department stores rejected me -- no experience. The quickie markets and filling stations said they would call, but they did not. I could deliver newspapers at 4AM, but the cost of my gas would outweigh the earnings.

Not to be discouraged, I printed up business cards that said, "General Repair," and set out on my own. People liked my work, money trickled in and I paid a few bills. When I became more confident and slightly more secure, the economy got worse and people stopped calling.

Not to be discouraged, I put my truck in service and passed out new business cards, that read, "I haul and remove old junk and metal." I was stripping down refrigerators, old air-conditioning units and anything I got my hands on, selling the scrap and copper to the recycle yard. I was paying my bills. When I became more confident and slightly more secure, the price of metal and copper sank to an all-time low, and there was no money in it.

Not to be discouraged, I mowed lawns and picked up odd jobs. After about a month, that dried up. The last job I held, I was 66 and was putting bales of straw in a hopper from 7AM to 6:30PM. I was fed lunch and paid $72.

A new direction

There has been no work since that time. Now, at age 67, I took up writing and published a book. It is too soon to know the outcome.

For the past five years, things have been hard. Initially, I went through a period of grief, anger, depression and fear. I felt a sense of futility and worthlessness. I knew I had many talents and skills to offer for which there was no demand.

One summer morning, sitting on my front porch gazing at the mountains, a cup of coffee in hand, I reflected on my current situation. I had sold my house at the onset of the economic meltdown, and by luck or by God, purchased this old farmhouse for cash.

The local Goodwill provided my furnishings and clothing on half-off day. Friends donated towels and flatware. Yard sales supplied me with dishes and cups. By now, I had adjusted to my situation and discovered the ability to survive on very little. The only stress I had was self-imposed.

My 23-year-old son moved in with me. We turned the barn into his art studio and installed a used wood stove for heat. Last summer we planted a garden, canned our food and hung our clothes on the line to dry.

A new outlook

The views from my home are of mountains and trees, fields and crops. Hawks fly overhead, finches perch on the feeder, and bright red cardinals flutter about the branches of the maple trees that shade my home. I write. I build. I garden. I am grateful.

Years ago, when I was much younger, I rented a beat-up trailer hidden in the redwoods in northern California. You had to drive past a steel gate and up a mile of crooked road to get to me.

I recall listening to the crickets, gazing at the stars and being very happy. I drank coffee and read Thoreau. I studied spiritual material and moved closer to God. My motto became "Keep It Simple." Then I got married and we moved, had children and I got back into making a living -- and lost myself. It is easy to do.

Here, in my farmhouse, on this land, looking at the mountains and hearing coyotes howl at night, gazing at the stars, being with my son, I drink coffee and watch him grow as a man. I have returned to my spiritual ways and to God. I am grateful. I am very happy.

I am blessed.

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