A long time ago . . .
I walked through the door at the front of a room and head straight to a yellow plastic chair on a steel frame, which as well, was at the front of the room with its back to the wall. I faced a U-shaped bench that was made of dark-stained wood and stationed against the other remaining three walls. The floor was tiled with tiles that were once white, but age and foot traffic left the floor to seem worn and scattered with black streaks and sneaker marks.
It had been a long time since I spoke in a facility like this one. Spaced around the benches were kids like the one I used to be. They were all uninterested. The corner of their lip curled upward with a belligerent disgust as they sat with their legs extended outward and crossed with one foot over the other. Their arms folded across their chests; their asses slid towards the front of the seat and their backs were slouched with their shoulder blades leaning on the low to midway section of the wooden backing.
Their eyes still looked clouded from the residual highs they felt before entering treatment, and moreover, their faces expressed a similar hatred that I felt when siting on their side of the room.
A counselor came in to begin the meeting. He was short. His hair was unkempt and gray. Perhaps, his hair was frizzed from the intense humidity of a summer day, or quite possibly, the counselor looked as he did after pulling hair from his head.
This was not an obedient bunch of boys. No one was under the age of 15 but no one was over the age of 21. They were all guppies in a much bigger pond but non of them knew this. All of them were itching to breakout, and none of them were interested in a life without drugs or drinking.
As the counselor spoke, his voice was like an irritant to the room. It was apparent to me that very few of these boys liked him. The counselor spoke in a way that if I were on the other side of him, I would hate him as well.
The counselor pointed to one of the boys and asked that he read a 12 –step preamble, followed by another boy reading a passage known as “How It Works.”
The part that stands out above any to me is this reading is, “Remember, we deal with Alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful!” This explains what I find myself up against—a chaotic disease of excessive compulsiveness that can hypnotize even the most innocent and turn them into the worst kind of evil.
As one of the boys began to read, the others looked off. They looked away at the ceiling, hoping to find a spot they could focus on instead of listening, relating, or surrendering to an idea of a life less complicated.
I was introduced. Then greeted the crowd with my own usual introduction.
“Hello, my name is Ben and I’m an alcoholic.”
This usually responds with the members of the group answering, “Hi Ben.”
Only, not this time; this time it was only the counselors that responded. The kids, however, eyed me up. They stared me down the same way a new inmate would find themselves stared at as they walked into the cage.
It was at this moment that I realized I am exactly like the boys on the bench. I felt their hatred. I felt their disinterest with the meetings. I was no different from them. I thought of places I could have been instead and people I would have rather been with.
I could have been anyplace else, but no, I was in that room. Same as they were. I was attending a meeting that I was told I would have to go to for the rest of my life. Same as they were.
I was told the one thing that I found comfort in was killing me. I was told the one thing I trusted, whether it was deadly or not, would be taken away from me and that I had to change, or “Surrender.”
Like the boys in the room, I was not about to surrender. I was removed from the life as I knew it. I was taken away from the comfort I depended on, the streets I walked through, and my freedom, same as theirs, was compromised and changed.
Like them, I lived in a place where I had to ask permission to go to the restroom. I was given portions at my meals. I wore signs around my neck as a therapeutic tool. I sat corners, facing the wall, and faced the certainty of a loud confrontation about why I never follow instructions.
I looked around the room and I felt the same feelings I felt when I walked through the doors of treatment for the very first time. I felt the old hatred. I felt the need to define myself with an image—or distract my discomfort by acting out or behaving differently to mask the fact of one simple truth; I was intimidated.
I paused before speaking. Instead of beginning my story, I sat quietly and mirrored the posture of the boys around the room. Intentionally, I looked at them the way they looked at me. I shifted my eyes at each of them, counting the crowd in my head, feeling my own levels of contempt, and then I exhaled. I looked at the floor and shook my head.
“A long time ago,” I said. “It was me sitting in that seat.”
“I sat in the same seat as you and I looked around the room like you guys are. Same as your doing now; I had to sit in front of speakers like me, and all the while I just thought to myself, “When the hell is this guy gonna shut up!”
“I have to be honest,” I explained. “When I walked in this room and saw how you looked at me, I was reminded of the times I walked into the bullpens beneath the courthouse.”
I told them, “I felt my guard come up.”
“I felt angry and I felt uncomfortable.”
Straight ahead of me was perhaps one of the older boys in the facility. He was wearing a pair of sunglasses. He rolled his head, pitched it to the side, and then adjusted his folded arms, as if to dig in and prepare himself for words he was not willing to hear.
“I was like you then and I still like you now.”
I began my story with the simple facts. Instead of preaching, I related.
Instead of telling the boys how to act or behave; I told them what happened to me.
In all truthfulness, I was swept away by a sickness.
It is not normal to be in a rehab facility. Kids that were my age were learning to drive. They were talking about going to the prom, graduating high school, and working on losing their virginity.
I explained the three parts of the cafeteria. The right side had its own section of cool kids. The left side had theirs, but the middle was unknown. The middle was faceless and socially stagnant. I explained about my fears of being unknown and my frustrations in the classroom as well as my hatred for the teachers.
I was the lost child. I was the scapegoat. I was the one no one ever expected anything from, because why would they when all I did was fail.
My emotions began to overwhelm me. I felt the need to stand and move around. This was different for the room. I noticed the attention was drawn away from the ceiling and floor as I began to pace.
“I am not here to tell you what I gained.”
“I’m going to tell you about what I lost,” I said.
I lost my teenage years.
I lost friends.
I lost my freedom to go, do, and be who I wanted to be.
I lost memories, and several times . . .
I almost lost my life
I almost lost to suicide
Almost lost to the court systems
I lost the experiences a teenage kid should have, like going out to the movies, or going to parties, or going anyplace without worrying about police intervention. And while I was away, and while I was sitting in chairs no different from the boys I spoke with, those that knew me were living their life. Nothing stopped. Nobody missed me. I was just another local name on a tragedy list. I was a statistic and nothing more.
The challenge of the crowd was growing weaker as I explained who I was and what I went through. They understood me. They understood my anger. I suppose they understood why my anger turned to tears, and when I passed by the yellow chair, I lifted and threw it across the room.
This made the counselors nervous (Except for the one that invited me. He lifted his opened hand and looked at his colleagues as if to use a “Simmer down,” motion.)
There was a moment of silence when the chair bounced across the floor.
The boys in the room looked at me.
“I’m going to come at you from a different angle.”
“I’m gonna be honest.”
“I hated having to be in a place like this. I hated the counselors. I hated the bullshit games I had to play so I could get some privileges. I hated the rats that told on me so they could look good and get over before I could.”
“I hate that I have to be here now. I hate that I have to say yes when someone asked me to do something like this because coming here reminds me of who I was and where I came from. And I don’t wanna remember who I was and where I came from, but if I forget it, the next thing I know, I’ll be sitting in that seat again . . . just like you . . . and I fuckin hate that seat“
“No way am I ever going to be in that seat again—starting over and counting my days back. No way!”
I told them, “You could stand up right now and never be the way you were.”
“You can wake up tomorrow and never have another day like yesterday . . . if you choose to.”
I received warmth from these boys after the meeting. One of them had tears in his eyes because after his stint in treatment, he was looking at another stint of a different kind.
I would like to believe I made a difference.
I hope I did.
It amazes me that we have become so blind as a society.
I recently helped at benefit to raise money and awareness for teenage drug addiction in a Suffolk County town.
It is unbelievable to see how many parents brushed this off and sent me away as if this was unimportant.
Meanwhile, all I kept thinking is, “These are ‘YOUR’ kids I’m trying to help!”
No wonder teenage drug addiction is on the rise.