I only have one question . . .
It really all comes down this and as simple or complex as we make it out to be—bottom line is it still comes down to this one simple thing.
When is it your turn to be who you want to be? And I understand life happens all around us, every day, and life gets in the way of our plans. I also understand the difference between having a dream and having the confidence of that dream will come true. But still, the question is the same. When is it your turn to be the person you want to be?
We all want to be something, and yet, we all have something standing in our way. But sure, there are some people out there that make it look easy. For some people, everything they touch seems to turn golden; and don’t forget, you have the pretty and the gifted, you have the wealthy, you have the talented, you have the advantaged—and then you have the guy in the middle.
Then you have the guy that has to fight for everything and sometimes that fight takes more away than a man (or woman) can win in return. And sometimes we’re too tired to fight. Sometimes we give in and sometimes we become so frustrated that we give up. We raise our hands and shake our heads. We turn away or we turn to something that softens the blow of the fact that we feel, “Less than,” or like a failure. And no matter how deep we bury this, no matter how we try to look the other way, no matter where we run to our how we try to forget, the fact remains that (deep down) we’re still here, wondering, and waiting for the life we want to begin.
My friend Jim told me this is a great question to have. When is it your turn? He says this is a great question because if we can ask this and if we can agree that yes, there is more to us; we all have dreams, we have aspirations and we all want something better for ourselves, then next question that leads to improvement is when are we going to give ourselves the permission to be what we dream? When are we going to allow ourselves the chance to be better?
Approximately somewhere in my mid to late 20’s, I walked into a nighttime classroom where a middle-aged woman, heavily doused in an awful amount of perfume that laced with the fragrance of what I could only imagine as to be those extra-long, filtered, womanly brand cigarettes sat behind the teacher’s desk and flipped through test forms. She wore a silken and loud multi-colored scarf around her neck, makeup and cover-up heavily applied, caked to the sides of her face as she sat at her desk in front of the room with her best, “Lean on me” expression, trying to save the world, one uneducated student at a time.
The teacher waved me over and asked me to sit down at the chair beside her desk. Opening a folder, she prepared her pen and paper so we could go over my information. And in truth, the woman could not have been taller than chest height to me; however, once sat in a classroom and shrunk by the intimidation of insecurity; once I was reduced in emotional size by my fears of educational snobbery, and shriveled beneath the shame that I, being of sound mind and able body felt as if I was so terribly small in comparison to her. I was small and terribly stupid.
I sat in the chair as directed to answer the teacher’s questions, hating every minute of it. I hated her. I hated the way her perfume leaked through the air and gave me a headache. I hated the way she smiled at me with that loud, ostentatious scarf, woven around her neck and stuffed into her white sweater; her hair all sprayed heavily with hairspray and frozen into position, a thick mole with trimmed black stubble hair protruding from her makeup slightly above her lip, and two-tone, rose-colored lenses on her eyeglasses which I believed she appeared to look down at me through. I hated the way I felt in that chair, as if I were weak, stupid, meaningless, and worthless.
“Why didn’t you finish school,” she asked.
What could I tell her? What would I say? The fact that I had never finished school and that I had lied about my education on job interviews was humbling enough. The fact that I had learning disabilities, or that I had grade-school reading skills at best, and that simple addition, the fraction lines between the inch marks of a tape measure, or that multiplication tables was humiliating enough. How could I answer this question?
Add these things to the fact that I was sent to a drug rehabilitation facility Upstate in New York because “I couldn’t hack it.” Add this to the fact that I couldn’t hack it so I checked out of reality by increasing my emotional distance from the world one dose at a time. Add this to the shame I felt because of what I was. It was hard enough to bring myself to night school, let alone answer questions like hers. It was enough to make me want to run out or burn the school down. This way there would be nothing left of my humiliation, except for ash and cinder of my humiliation
I swore I couldn’t do it. I swore couldn’t pass what others would call a simple, High school Equivalency Test, and gain what is commonly known by acronym as a G.E.D. General Education Diploma.
I swore I would never get through the first section. I swore I could never get through the basic math and I swore they would fail me.
I envisioned myself the way I was as a young punk kid in a classroom. I was too afraid to explain that I couldn’t understand. I was too afraid to be ridiculed Rather than say anything to anyone, whenever I took the important tests, I would mark my multiple choice test sheets with pencil in pretty designs to drive the teachers wild.
I swear I hated classrooms. And that teacher with her best, “Lean on me” smile looked at me through her rose-tinted large, wire-framed glasses with a golden, gaudy detail, and she continued with her questions, further pushing me to run from the classroom, which reeked from the stench of her and some of the other students.
I swore I didn’t belong there. I certainly didn’t want to be there. After all, most of the other students used English as a second language. A few were like me, older with a history, but not so old or with so much of a history that we forgot what we missed by not attending classes. To me, all the students in class had the same humbled look in their eyes. Their look was like my look. Maybe we all felt stupid. Maybe we all thought we would fail the test. At least, I was certain that I would.
After attempting to evade some of the teacher’s questions to no avail, eventually, I snapped back at her request to learn why I never finished High School.
“It’s because I liked heroin too much,” I answered.
And when I answered, I answered loud enough to cause the other students to lift their eyes from their studies and peer at the back of my neck. Of course, I was not certain they were all looking at me. I was only certain that it felt like every eye in the world was upon me—everyone laughing, and all of them thinking what I believed was true for years, which is that I was nothing more than a stupid High School drop-out.
Quickly, I felt the old insecure feelings of my earlier youth. I felt the anxiety steadily trickle in to inflate my humiliation. And had this gone on a second longer, I swore that I would explode.
Straight-faced and defiant, I waited for the teacher to respond to my defiance. The friendly and attempting to be inspirational expression on the teacher’s overly-dolled face switched from lighthearted to disturbed. Suddenly stern with me, at last, the questioning ended and I was instructed to find a seat with a sample test booklet.
I read and tired. I added 2+2 and I subtracted and I multiplied to the best of my ability. I went weekly for three to four weeks with the final week being test week. And I swear the tension was incredible.
After I took the exam, I heard nothing in the quiet classroom except for the quiet imaginary whispers that screamed in my head and telling, “You failed!”
I’m not sure how long it was before I received my test scores. I’m not sure if I waited weeks or months. It seemed like I waited years and I’d thought enough to let the anxiety rest by surrendering to the fact that I could never pass an exam like that. Furthermore, I resigned to the fact that this was, “Just me,” and put simply, I was made to be stupid.
As time passed, I almost forgot about the test until the day I came home and saw an envelope on the kitchen counter. The envelope was from the board of education. “Why open it,” I thought to myself. “Why bother?”
I sat in a chair out in the living room, feet up, eyes already watered with disappointment and a heart already broken by defeat. Why open it? Why bother? I already knew what the news would be.
I dug in deep and prepared myself for the loss. I tore open the top half of the envelope. I took a deep breath and sighed to my defeat before pulling out the paper that would determine what I already knew as fact.
Immediately, I imagined the voices of my family saying, “If at first you don’t succeed,” and all that supportive crap. Of course they would say this. Sure they would. They had no idea how I felt about taking that test.
“If at first you don’t succeed.”
Why would I subject myself to that again?
Removing the contents of the envelope, I unfolded the pages of a letter, which began with words that read similarly to this.
We are pleased to report that you have successfully passed your High School Equivalency Exam. . .”
The letter went on; however, my eyes ran with tears like a faucet left slightly open.
I read the letter and I cried.
I cried because of the lies I told myself and things I believed about me that were never true. I cried because it feels degrading to be considered as nothing more than a, “High School drop-out.”
I cried because I wasn’t stupid. I cried because I passed. But mostly, I cried because of all the time I spent listening to my doubt; at last, I realized I could have freed myself long before had I only given myself the permission to be successful
So again, same as it was for me then, it really comes down to this same question for you now.
When is it your turn?
When is it your turn to be the person you want to be?
And more importantly, when will you give yourself the permission to try?
Sober 26 years
Man, husband, father and friend
I own a home
I have a job
And for the first time in a long time, I’m attempting to bring myself into the career that I had always dreamed of: To help others like me get clean, stay sober, beat their own odds, and be the person they always wanted to be.
I guess this means my time is now
What about you?