After my time on the farm, everything I had, and everything I learned was compiled and stuffed into a duffle bag. My clothes were different. My hair was different too. I had gained weight and my voice sounded more like a young man instead of a young punk.
I was frightened and excited, at the same time. There were no more early morning wake-ups. When the alarm clock went off, there was no one counting to 20, there was no line for the shower, and on top of that, there were no more two-minute showers.
The dorm was a series of bunk beds with steel frames and steel springs. There was a dorm leader, as well as a dorm supervisor. Towards the last months of my stay, I was the dorm supervisor, which was ironic, in some ways.
Like anyone that arrived on the farm, I needed an attitude adjustment. I was sneaky and conniving. I was unwilling to change and I was not ready to surrender to this thing called addiction.
I was content on finding an easier softer way. However, there was no easier softer way on the farm.
From the sound of the alarm clock in the morning to lights out at night, there was always someone around; there was always someone to motivate, or instruct me. I assume this was to keep me out of my own thoughts because, “It is our thoughts that keep us sick,” or so they told me.
Upon my arrival, I was still scrawny. My eyes were beady, or almost rat-like. I had a comment for everything and an attitude for everyone.
I thought to myself, “They’re not going to fix me…..I’m going to fix them.”
But that did not work as I planned. That plan was changed during my first morning on the farm. The alarm clock belted out a pulse of loud tones. And I, from my bottom bunk, curled in my white sheet with a thin blue, ribbed blanket over me, and my head lying on a thin, flimsy pillow after finally falling to sleep; I was awoke by this burst of noise, which was followed by the dorm leader counting, “1….2….3…” all the way up to twenty.
Some of the others in the bunk began to scream and shout at us less-motivated inmates.
“GET UP! LET’S GO, LET’S GO! YOU HAVE TO BE OUT OF YOUR BUNK WITH YOUR BUNK MADE IN TWENTY SECONDS…..TWENTY SECONDS, LET’S GO!”
If the bunk, or dorm, was late to breakfast, then the bunk did not eat. If I did something wrong, it was quickly pointed out.
Upon my arrival, the powers that be cut my longhair short. They took away my clothes that I came in with. They took away my headphones and my music. They stripped me down; they took away my image, and more than surrendering—this part the most frightening.
Who would I be if not the person I pretended? What would I do now that they stripped me of my image and shattered the masks that I hid behind?”
When I arrived on the farm, I was shouted at. I was sat in corners and told to face the wall. I was told to wear signs.
I cleaned pigpens and shoveled shit. I was on my knees, waxing floors by hand, and I was in the kitchen washing dishes, along with pots and pans.
And no matter what job, whether it was in the barn, on a cleaning crew, or in the kitchen, there was always someone over my shoulder screaming, “LET’S GO, LET’S GO….MOVE IT, MOVE IT!”
I suppose the first few months were toughest on me. I tried to fight back, but I was outmanned and outweighed. There was too much influence, and after a while, I grew tired of being yelled at. I grew tired of fighting and this is when I learned one of the most important lessons of all: It takes more energy to get out of work than it does to just do the job.
Getting over is a constant process. If I lied, then I had to back up that lie with more to create a safe padding, and if I lied to get out of work on the farm, and then I was caught; my work load would double.
“Don’t want to clean pigpens?”
Too bad, get in there and start
“Afraid of the cows kicking when you clean their trough of shit behind them as they get milked?”
Then move fast and maybe they won’t get you.
There was no place for rebellion here, and whenever I tried, I was quickly put into place. At the time, the fellowship, or number of inmates totaled near 35. There was structure, and there was also form of government, and like any government, ours was far from perfect. It was, at times, corrupted with opinion, resentment, and personal gain. The farm was run by us; a group of drug addicts and alcoholics. It was run by troubled kids that turned themselves around, and at the head table, there was “Mom and Dad”
Since anonymity prevents me from using names, I will refer to the owners of the farm as Mom and Dad.
Both were sober and both understood the disease of alcoholism. At one point in his life, Dad was a heavy handed, hard drinker.
His yell was loud and the sound of his fist slamming down onto a table was intimidating. It was thunderous, actually, and the sound of his hand slamming onto the table almost always followed with him shouting, “YOU STUPID MAN!”
In fact, this is what we called getting yelled at.
Friends would say, “You’re gonna get a ‘Stupid man’ if you do that,” and then we would laugh.
We laughed, not because it was funny, but because we had all been there.
From Mom and Dad, the government broke down into branches. Next in charge were the trusted senior members, which were people that lived on the farm for a long period of time, and practiced the house principles.
As a community, we ran the farm. We cooked and we cleaned. We cared for the animals. We served the food. We ate together, we worked together, and since there was a Franciscan Priest living on the premises, we prayed together as well.
I arrived on the farm during the snowfall before dinnertime. The sky was gray, the ground was white, and I had no idea what to expect.
I was uncomfortable. I was scared. I was angry that this place was going to be my home until mom and Dad, or the New York Court System, or the powers that be would allow me to leave.
I left on a beautiful day in September. The sky was blue. The view from the front porch was perfect. The trees had begun to change color, and the sun still held onto the last of summer’s warmth. It seemed fitting to me. I came in during a storm, changed, and I left when the weather was clear.
I was sober….
My slate was clean and I was about to re-enter the world as a changed man.
I talk about this often because this was my first true test in sobriety. It was easy to remain sober, or good, in a controlled environment.
I remember pulling up to my house for the first time. I was home.
I was on my own. There was no one yelling at me. There was no one there to motivate me when I would slack off. There was no one counting to 20 when I woke up, and there was no one yelling,
“let’s go, let’s go…..move it, move it!”
Most would call this exciting….but I was terrified.
When I left, I was considered to be a senior member. I was trusted with keys to the house. I was given positions of authority. I was respected.
I had friends and people that understood me. For the first time, I felt as if I belonged somewhere.
As crazy as the farm was; I belonged.
When I walked into my bedroom for the first time, I felt like I was trying on clothes that no longer fit me.
I was alone again.
I felt out of place. I felt uncomfortable. I felt awkward.
I had to learn how to fit in again. I had to learn how to socialize, how to act, and how to be cool without doing what other people do. I had to learn how to be comfortable in my own skin…..
These were the feelings I had before I was sober, and consequently, these were the feelings behind my relapse.
I saw this as proof that drinking or drugs were only a symptom.
Food, gambling, shopping, sex, and the list continues; but all of these are external ways to scratch an internal itch.
Same as a machine needs maintenance, so does the mind. In order to stay sober, or clean, or out of trouble, or anything else, which might find itself on the list of external ways to soothe an internal problem…..I had to learn how to process my emotions.
I had to learn how to voice my frustrations instead of behaving them