institutionalized

I am writing this specifically to you…..

During the last angry lecture from The Old Man, he told me, “Sometimes I think it would be easier if you just committed suicide. It sure as hell would be easier than watching you kill yourself like this.”
According to The Old Man’s account, I dragged my feet when I walked. I barely opened my mouth when I spoke, and as I spoke, my words dragged slowly as if my brain were permanently relaxed from my drug use.

“I swear it would be easier if you killed yourself. At least this way your mother and I could hurt and then we could heal….but watching you do this to yourself is worse than watching you die.”

I was no longer their innocent little boy. My skin color was a poor shade of pale. My lips often had burn marks, which came from an overheated glass pipe, and they always appeared blistered or chapped.
In my youth I was always thin; however, I was painfully thin throughout my addiction. I seldom ate because I seldom had an appetite.
Most of my meals were substituted with a chemical intake and much of my nourishment was lost to bouts of nausea. My ribs showed through my sides and the bumps from my spine were clearly seen on my back. In a word, I looked sickly.

“No parent should ever have to see their child like this,” said The Old Man.
A few days after my first arrest, The Old Man and I were alone for what had to be the first time. After a period of angry silence, The Old Man broke down and cried.
He wept in a way that I had never seen before.
“I wanted them to shoot you,” he told me.
“At least then I know you would be safe.”

As the result of my arrest, the courts mandated me to the mandatory completion of an in-patient drug treatment facility. I was quickly placed in a 28-day rehabilitation center. And upon my completion, I was sent directly to another 42-day facility, and then to a long-term treatment home, which I often refer to as, “The Farm,” where I spent 11 months.
It would be nice to say this was all it took for me to grasp onto sobriety.
But that would not be accurate…

As a species, we learn ways to ease ourselves from birth. When an infant cries, the child is given a pacifier, to stop them from crying.

Pacify: [Pass-uh-fye]
To ease or bring to a state of peace. To calm. To appease. To reduce to a state of submission

Perhaps an infant’s cry is due to the pain from teething, or the moodiness of hunger. Nevertheless, we are taught from birth how to pacify our discomfort, or cling to the comforts of something external, in order to soothe an internal struggle.
This, of course, does not solve the pain or stop the discomfort; it only pacifies them for the time being.

After coming home from the controlled environment of a treatment facility and after falling backwards into my emotions and fears; I had turned away from my ability to express myself, and rather than cry out, I went back the old pacifiers, which in turn, led me to my relapse….
So I went back to where I started from.

Outside of the small town of Ellenville is the even smaller town of Kerhonkson, New York. Since this is the location where I began my trip into sobriety, I went back to stay at my first 28-day facility.
I went back because it was familiar. I knew the counselors, same as they knew me. I knew when my meals were. I knew where my group sessions would be; I knew what time I had my one-on-one sessions with my head counselor, and I knew what time my meetings were, and when to sleep.
I understood what to expect from the other patients, as well as what they would expect from me. I knew the routine and I knew the rules.
In fact, I depended on these things.

Since this was not my first visit, I was called a Repeat. A repeat is a returning patient, and had I returned a third time, I would have been known as a Three-peat.
However, there was no term for someone returning a fourth time. As far as I knew, this never happened because the facility would not accept patients after a third stay.

On the tail-end of my 28 day program, I continued to spin out of control. I had just finished an explosive outburst, and while sitting with my one-on-one counselor, I was asked, “What are the three outcomes of this lifestyle?”
I answered, “Jails, institutions, and death.”

He asked, “Do you know what it means to be institutionalized?”
“It means to be placed in an institution.”
“No,” replied the counselor. “It means you cannot successfully live outside of an institution”
He said, “It means as soon as you get out of a controlled environment, you destroy yourself. And that’s you homeboy! That’s the road you’re heading down right now.”

Decades later, I can still recall the expression on my counselors face when he asked, “Why did you come back here?”
“I came back because I relapsed and I put myself in a bad situation.”
But the counselor interrupted.
“Son, I know exactly who you are. I remember you when you came here the first time.”

I began to feel exposed as  he continued, “You know how to stay sober. You know what to do. So why did you come back to this place?”
I tried to explain, “Because it’s easier to get sober here than it is at home with all the influences around me.”
But again, he stopped me.
“No. You came back here because it’s comfortable. You came back because it’s familiar.”
What he really said was, “I came back because it was pacifying.”
And he was right….

Safe to say you can relate to this….
Safe to say mental health facilities and even jails can be an addiction.
If they weren’t, then why would you pick up where you left off as soon as you completed your sentence?

In your last letter, you explained how this was your last bid. You said you would never be locked up again….but yet….here you are, on the edge, and inevitably facing one of your three outcomes.
Jails….institutions…..or death.
In your last letter you mentioned your family. You mentioned your child and how painful it is to be away from your wife.
But yet…..here you are, repeating the process that put you away in the first place.

Before you go off and do what you do, I want you to think about where you were on this day, last year.
Close your eyes and see what you saw. I want you to recall the smells and the sounds. I want you to recall the voices of the different inmates and the faces of each guard you saw on a regular basis. Remember the daily routine and your confinement.
I want you to remember the slow moving time you spent behind brick, and concrete. Remember what it was like to live inside cages with someone always watching you.
Then I want to think about how the outside lived. Time moved and calendars changed. Meanwhile, your name became a memory, as if you were suspended or placed on a shelf.
Life moved on for everyone else but your time remained stagnant.
I want you to realize that before your returned to society, you were a number.
You were a prisoner and a statistic.

I steal the exact words my old counselor told me and give them to you.
Institutionalized means you cannot live a productive life outside of a controlled environment. And that’s you homeboy…That’s the road you’re heading down right now.
Son, I know you. You know how to stay sober.
So then why are you setting yourself up to repeat the process.

But I get it….
Even prison has its own comforts. You know when your meals are.
You know the routine and you understand the system.
Besides, any success behind bars is a win because you can’t fail any worse, right?

It’s almost comfortable.
It’s familiar.
This of course does not solve the problem.
It only pacifies you for the time being.

But what the hell, right?
At least your loved ones know you’ll be safe….even if it’s inside a 23 hour lockdown.

I only hope these words I share have the same effect on you as they did with me.
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