I was sitting on the trunk of my car just around the time when the sun came up. I was tired. I was young but not so young anymore.
I was on the tail end of a long night, which was not unsuccessful by any means. But yet, I was stuck in a pattern of thinking.
I had just come from a night out with the boys. I had encountered a new girl with a name I never thought of or cared to ask about.
I heard something brilliant this morning. I had to sop for a second and listen to this again. I wanted to examine this idea before I could share it with you.
“When you’re looking at someone who is extremely successful, do not allow yourself to make them extraordinary at your own expense.”
Life is nothing more than a series of lessons, which means we learn along the way. We learn from birth, all the way up until the day when we pass.
We learn about life. We learn about the basic things and the obvious things. We learn about the birds and the bees.
We learn about love and we are taught what love is supposed to be, what love is supposed to look like, about beauty, how to love beautiful things, and as well; we are taught what beauty is and what beauty isn’t.
There is a quick shuttle ride that I take which brings people from Times Square to Grand Central Station and vice versa. This is part of the New York City underground subway system. I have taken this ride more times than I can count. I have seen all kinds of people on this quick trip.
I have seen everything this city of mine has to offer, right here, enclosed in a few subway cars, which is literally fascinating to me.
There are times when words fall short until you press “Play.”
That’s when the music starts.
That’s when the song comes on to introduce the lyrics.
And the songs that fit us best are is not just any songs.
There was an old tree in front of my home back when I lived in my old home town. The tree was not the prettiest on the block. It was certainly the oldest. I would often regard this tree for several reasons because first and foremost, no matter what happened to the landscapes around it, the tree never fell.
Just know that I am going to leave this here for now. So, before I go forward and assuming you go beyond this point, please understand this was written in the middle of the night. And more to the point, this was written after learning the sad news about a young man that will never grow older.
The worst feeling is the feeling of powerlessness. This is the hopeless feeling that comes over us when we see our friends and our loved ones undergo something traumatic.
The worst part is no matter how hard we try, the truth is there are no right words to say. There is nothing anyone can do that will change the facts or soften the blow of something painful. All we can do is allow our friends and loved one’s to have their right to feel.
Ever find yourself on the bad end of a decision?
Of course you have. Everybody has. Everyone has made a mistake at one point or another. Unfortunately, sometimes, some of our mistakes are costly. Some of our mistakes can be painful. Some of our mistakes will hurt other people and sometimes, our mistakes damage friendships or result in the separation of important relationships.
One of the more popular sayings I can recall when I made my first big life change was never allow anyone to rent space in your head. The idea is to not harbor resentments, which I get and which I have done because after all I am human and I understand what it’s like to be angry or upset about someone or something. But more than this are the other categories that come to mind when allowing people to rent space in your head.
Whenever the times were tough, Mom always made her famous mashed potatoes with chicken cutlets and brown gravy. The cutlets were breaded and fried. She used the best breadcrumbs and there have been others that made the same meal with the same ingredients but for whatever the reason, no cutlets were ever like Mom’s cutlets.
And what I am about to say might be against science and popular opinion, but hell with it. This needs to be said.
Ultimately, food is the best antidepressant ever. And this is not just any food. When I say food, I mean the meals we grew up with. I mean the food that for whatever the reason might be—the smell of the dish alone, mixed with the flavor; it somehow just took away the problems at hand.
I was driving home just before sunrise on a New Year’s morning. The crowd split and everyone went in their own direction. I was longhaired at the time with two silver hoop earrings in my left ear. I wore a black suit jacket with a tuxedo shirt beneath and a black bow tie. I had on a pair of my “Go-to” trusty but faded blue jeans. They were loose and straight around the leg with rips and tears across the right knee and loose threads dangling from the ripped sections of denim. I wore a pair of black Justin cowboy boots, which I swiped to perfect my appearance.
Imagine what it would mean to be free. Imagine what it would be like to be free of worry and free of irrational fear.
Imagine if there was no such thing as self-doubt. Imagine if our happiness was not hinged upon the ideas of “If.” or “When,” and instead of depending upon the outcomes of our daily living, regardless to whatever happens to us; imagine a life free of the dependencies upon people, places, or things.
I walked inside the main doorways to an upstate facility after a long car ride. I was still sweating out the demons of my last ride, so to speak. I was in a fog or, should I say was making my reentry from my last trip out of the atmosphere. As I was coming down from my high, time moved like a stop action film, one caption after another, and the trip I was on was destined to lead me to someplace I didn’t want to go.
I think the beginning of my personal change was the hardest for me. I think the beginning of any change is uncomfortable. Then again, much of my difficulty was a reflection of me.
I was told that if I wanted to build my self-esteem then I’d have to do esteemable acts. To be very clear and with all the honesty I have in my heart, I absolutely hated the one-line helpful statements like this.
I couldn’t stand them.
I am writing to you with hopes that this will follow you throughout your life. I hope this helps and if it does, I want you to take this thought with you no matter where you go.
I am also writing this with hopes that this follows you beyond all the apologies and all the attention to the moment at hand.
Also, I am writing this to you as a Dad and as a friend, as a person that looks around and wonders why life happens the way it does, and as someone that understands how the things we see will follow us around for the rest of our life
I swear sometimes it seems like everything is uphill.
Nothing comes easy. And even the good ideas come with some problems, which makes it uncomfortable to get your hopes up.
But you do.
This still happens, inevitably, of course and you become cautiously optimistic until the flavor hits your tongue and then you can taste it —then you get your hopes up.
Only, you’re afraid, which makes it hard to dream because the dream itself is perfect. All dreams are perfect, else they would call them something else, like nightmares, for example.
Along the way, you certainly realize that life is a relative thing. Along the way, we learn as we go along. We grow and we live. We have different exposures and different experiences, and, as well, we have different viewpoints that come from our basic circle of influence. Not everything is the same to you and me, which is fine if you ask me. I think they call this diversity.
There is a trace of snow on the ground. It’s not much but there is enough snow to blanket the ground.
I am awake (obviously) and up much earlier than most people are, which is not unusual for me. I have come here, to the window in my loft and sit for the moment before the daybreak occurs. I have armed myself with a cup of coffee to enjoy this moment of silence. I have come here to share a minute with you before the day takes off. The snowfall is enough to illuminate the ground just before the sunrise. I can hear the heat coming up too, which clicks and clacks, and helps me to fit the mood.
The scene is pretty enough to match the sentiment of where we are, now, and trying to find the answer to the inevitable question, which is, “Where do we go from here?”
Everything we do or see throughout our life has had an impact on the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we act or respond.
There is an internal voice within us all, which we talk to and interact with. This is the internal narrative, which in many cases is the voice of something unresolved in our memory.
This is the whisper in our thoughts that creates doubt and concern. This is the idea that causes us to be overly cautious and overly protective of us to the point that we shut ourselves down or cut ourselves off from the chance of a new understanding.
I have decided to take it back a notch, just to relax, just to think about a place, or wait no, just to think about a trip I took a while back. I stayed at a small beat up motel one block from the beach down in Ft. Lauderdale.
I am not thinking about the reason for my trip or the actual aspects of the trip itself.
No, I’m thinking about the beach and the white sand, the hot sun on my face, the palm trees and the smell of the ocean. I am thinking about the sunrise walks I took along the shore and the colors that spread out across the horizon. It’s amazing, isn’t it? it amazes me that beauty exists even in troubled times, if we look for it, that is.
Time teaches all lessons and none is more important than this; always match intensity. In the case of friendships, match intensity.
In the case of love and romance, match intensity. In the case of business or business partners and acquaintances with new ventures or meetings about new acquisitions, match intensity.
Always remain an equal partner to avoid the lopsided feeling of giving too much of yourself without an appropriate return.
Since everyone is still talking about the “New Year/New Me” ideas, I think it might be helpful to discuss a few tricks when it comes to a transformational change.
The truth of the matter is we cling to habits. At least, I do. The truth is most people have a usual routine.
Consider the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning. Some look at the clock. Some look at their phone. Either way, most people have their morning rituals and daily routines.
Here it is, the first day of the New Year. It is the year, 2020 which is not to be confused with the description of perfect or “Normal” vision of 20/20. No this is just the first day of the New Year, which is really no different from any other day—it’s just a different name. That’s all.
Truth is I am like anyone else down here on Project Earth. The fact remains that I just want to live, feel, be, think, and breathe to the best of my ability.
I am like anyone and everyone else in this world, in which case, I mean there are times when I am lost or scared or confused, which is fine to be honest, because pretending to be otherwise is not always beneficial.
There is no time for New Year’s resolutions. Not today. Or should I say at least, “Not for me.”
I am reminded of a line from a song that says, “The revolution will not be televised.”
This is not to say that I am looking for a revolution or the need to revolt nor am I entering my plea for political attention; however, I am showing the need for change.
I was the youngest in my house. I was the little brother too and the one, always trying to tag along, and always poking the bear, so to speak, and always crying after I took the beating, which I probably instigated.
It is true, I was the little one and yes, it is also true that being the little one led to certain unfortunate things.
This led me to things like dead-arms or dead-legs, which is literally when someone punches you in the arm or leg.
A lot happens in 30 years.
I was awake last night, asking myself about the things I have done and the places I’ve been to since this day back in 1989. I was only a kid then.
I thought about the people and the places I’ve seen and how I swore that I would never see them again, but yet, fate does what fate does.
Suffice to say that life has its own rhythm. Suffice to say that so do I and so do you. Life is funny down here on Project Earth.
I used to react to everything. Or, more accurately, it would be better to say I used to overreact to everything. But such is life with anxiety disorders. This is the struggle I had between rational and irrational thinking.
I used to have panic attacks.
Ever have one?
There is an idea I have been rewriting for a long time now. The shape is different and so is the flow. I suppose the prose changes whenever I change but yet, the core is the same. The body is the same too, just older, like I am now, older, but still me and deep down, coming clearer, the more I revisit this idea, the more I capture my growth:
There was a helpful exercise I remember from a class that I took on transformational coaching in which, the entire class held up a sheet of paper. Everything else was to be cleared from our desk,
The instructor told us all to close our eyes and hold up the sheet of paper.
With our eyes closed, we were instructed to fold the paper in half and then rip off the top, right hand corner of the page.
Hello, my name is Ben and I a member of Christmas Anonymous, which means that at one point, I had a problem with the Christmas season. This is not to say that Christmas Anonymous is a real thing but for the moment it is.
The following is my qualification for membership, which, I have learned to overcome. And so, with hopes to reach those who’ve been through their struggling similarity; I offer this message of hope because although heartfelt, the truth is we can all overcome anything, should we so choose to.
The truth is we never know the impact we have upon each other. A smile, or a simple thing, like the word, “Hello,” can be much bigger than we think. In fact, the simplest gestures can in fact create the biggest miracles.
I believe the reason why I wanted to write is the same reason why anyone does anything. I began to write because I wanted to find my way.
I wanted to understand myself but more than anything else, I wanted to find my own source of freedom.
In this case, everything I would have to write about would need to be true, which may not be true to you or anyone else —but that was okay with me because everything I wrote and everything I journaled is and was true to me. And such is the same that can be said about perception, in which I mean perception is not truth; it’s just true to me, which is fine for now.
Make no mistake, There needs to be a plan before we go forward. This plan needs to be clear and thought out. There needs to be a goal and a strategy to achieve it. We have to establish this; otherwise, we find ourselves on the doorstep of an undesirable outcome.
Before heading into a meeting, or making a phone call, and before starting a job or a project, regardless to the work we have to do, there needs to be an idea.
There needs to be a vision to focus upon or else we run the risk of missing our target. Keep in mind, everything we do we do for a reason. Everything we do is to honor a want, a thought, a feeling or a need. This will run the gamut between simple and complicated, but regardless to the details; the same rules apply. So make it a plan.
There is a little Church up in a town called Callicoon, which I remember very well. The building itself was old and small, white shingles on the outside, with a few stained glass windows and a peak with a steeple like one would imagine. This place is a memory from back when I lived on the farm as well as a moment when I came to grips with the person I used to be.
I was sent here a few times to clean the Church on Saturday mornings to make things ready for Sunday’s Mass, which, to be honest, I never felt comfortable in Churches-especially alone, and by myself, but either way, this is where they sent me.
If you were to go back to me when I was at my worst or if you were to find me, way back when, on the ground, crawling around on the floor and chasing the cocaine demons or, like say, if you were to see me in the holding cells or waiting in the bullpens beneath the courthouse before I was about to see the judge, or maybe if you were to find me when I was older, living better but still depressed and anxious and facing bankruptcy, feeling loveless and empty and looking for a way out but every turn was a dead end, and if you would have come to me in the depths of my anxiety or found me when my insomnia refused to leave like an unwanted guest, when all I could do is lay in bed and toss or turn and then watch the red numbers on my alarm clock, glaring at me in the dark like an insult to injury, or, if you would have found me in the times when I contemplated “The End,” and told me, someday, this is where I’d be —the truth is, I would have sworn, “You’re out of your mind.”
Everything about my life was either forced or coerced. Nothing was ever natural to me. For some reason, I gave into the inaccurate ideas that there was something wrong with me. I was a slave to myself. I was a slave to my thinking and my belief system. I was trapped somehow, like a prisoner in a cage, like an inmate in the most uncomfortable form of solitary confinement there could be. I was trapped in myself. I was trapped in my life and trapped in the habitual patterns which I could not seem to break.
Above all the things I needed to get away from, I needed to get away from my guilt and my regret. More than anything else, I needed to be free from the ideas of shame. I knew there were secrets which I never dared to talk about. But at this point, feeling better was the only thing that mattered to me.
Therapy is a great idea but the connection between therapist and client is as crucial as the air we breathe and the food we eat. I never found a therapist that I connected with.
Medication helps as well, but my experience with mood stabilizing medication was unsuccessful. I didn’t like the side effects. I didn’t like the fact that I felt neither good nor bad—but just an unenthused, in-between sense of nothingness. Not happy, not sad, not anything, just existing.
There were times when I wondered what my life would have been like if I were different or grew up in a different neighborhood. I wondered what would have happened if turned right instead of left that on last Sunday night in August, 1989.
Where would I have been or how would I have grown if I chose not to return a phone call one morning before a terrible decision? Or, what would have happened if I said “No” to a car ride the first time I saw a crack pipe?
I used to wonder what my life would have turned into if I had stood up for me or stayed true to myself—because instead of being true to me, I just rehearsed the things I wished I could say.
When I was a little boy, somewhere around the age of six or seven, The Old Man bundled me up in a bunch of warm clothes, took me out into his big blue bronco truck, which I remember in my mind’s eye and can see this clearly.
I remember the way the bench seat looked and how the motor rumbled. I remember the long black handle for the stick shift. I remember the coldness of the morning, but more importantly, I remember the reason for this trip. This was the time we began the yearly tradition on New Year’s Day.
This was our day to be Father and son. Nothing ever stopped this day between us. No matter how badly things turned, we always held our New Year’s tradition.
Back on the farm, the time was beginning to move a little differently. I was still not sure if I believed in anything differently from before.
I wasn’t buying into their ideas of a totally abstinent drug free life nor was I buying into their religious outlook.
I had always believed in God to some degree. Yet, at the same time, there were other times when I reached out to God, personally, and found that my prayers were unanswered. I did not like religion, let alone my religion. My background and culture was different from the popular norm.
That Thanksgiving on the farm with Mom and The Old Man was nice. There was something to the occasion that made the day more than just another holiday.
We were happy. The Old Man was happy with me and so was Mom. For the first time in a long time, my parents were proud.
There was no trouble. No one was looking for me. There was no reason to excuse myself from the table, to hide something, or to leave the house. This was a reward to me; however, this is where the battle of depressive thinking comes in to disrupt the victory. These are the thoughts that would discount the reward and downplay my achievements.
I began this process to be better. I was journaling more and more about the times of my youth and the misunderstandings of my life. I was feeling better. My journaling was therapeutic. However, the details of my life, which became the subject of my journals were truly amazing to me.
As I recalled the next few stages of my life and as I recalled the time I spent in treatment, as I recalled the total annihilation of self, the pain, the growth and my rebirth, I began to detail the stages up to my biggest losses.
The days between my arraignment and my departure to rehab were more like a blur than anything else. So much happened to me in a short amount of time. I packed everything up in my room, I prepared to take a plea, and I secured an attorney. Mom had a nervous breakdown, which was horrible. The Old Man was angry and wanted to kill me. My brother could hardly stand to look at me but worse than this were the details of my arrest, which made the local newspaper, complete with the reports of a helicopter chase and all. This meant everybody knew what happened.
There was a time that came when I was alone in my own self. There was no one else around to absorb the pain or distract me from the consequences. There was no one else but me to handle the mistakes and the facts of my actions.
I knew the police were looking to speak with me about a few different break-ins. I knew there was nothing friendly about my atmosphere or the company I kept. More than a few of the officers in the precinct knew me by name, and now they had me, and none of them had my best interests at heart.
Before going forward in this part, I would like to express that anonymity is very important to me. Therefore, although this story is absolutely true, names and certain details will be changed in this chapter to protect the less-then innocent. And with that being mentioned, I will go forward and say one could have suggested to me that I should thank my lucky stars for what I have. But I would have never seen it.
There was very little left of me. I was sick in more ways than I could tell you. I was physically unwell. I was mentally frayed and frazzled like the end of an old tattered rope.
I could not keep my thoughts together. I could not keep anything together, let alone, maintain an appearance of normalcy. It was clear to everyone that I was unraveling and falling apart.
And for the record, my parents tried. They really did.
This is part one of something I need to detail.
If I wanted to move forward, I needed to look back at myself. I had to look back at one of my most troubled times and the time when my life was forever altered. I had secrets from this time. I had my share of guilt and shame but above all, the regret from this part of my life would not let me move forward.
More than just my obvious drug use, I needed to break down the connection to my thoughts and behaviors. However, as I write this now, it is important for me to express that I do not do drug stories.
I do not romanticize my past. I cannot and will not glamorize that lifestyle nor will I feed into the culture; however, for all intents and purposes, I believe it is important that I detail this part of my story. I want to detail this specifically, because this story is the most important story. This is me. This is a story that takes place on a day in late August, 1989.
I was never sure how this began. I looked back at my life to see if I could figure this out. I looked back as if it were an old movie I saw, in which, I know what happened. I know who the characters were, but to me, this was the same thing as sitting in a movie with subtitles I couldn’t understand.
I looked back at the things I had done and the situations I created. I looked back at my self-inflicted wounds and the internal battle scars, which refused to fade.
I was moving deeper into my journals and detailing the days of my youth and my young adulthood. It was not long before this when I lived in a life that was clearly not meant for me.
I was stuck in a pattern of living and thinking and more to the point; I simply could not see me in any other way than I was.
There were times when I looked around and wondered how I ended up where I was. How does this happen to people? How do people fall into their life this way?