I am not sure if I knew what fear was. I just knew I was afraid. I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t know the difference between feeling and emotion or even if there was one. I never thought about the emoting itself, which is innate or within us and natural; however, a feeling is different because feeling is the mind’s experience which we tie to an emotion. Therefore, the emotion is fear —however, the feeling of being afraid is due to the events of my life, which I tie to that emotion, which causes anticipation and a long list of other responses —
We sat in a small room. The chairs formed in a circle and all of us inmates or “Patients” depending upon the way we described ourselves at the time; we sat in the early morning group, eyes still have shut from a poor night’s sleep, and our stomachs full with breakfast, which admittedly, was pretty good for institutional living.
We were considered adolescents or “Kids” but of course, we thought of ourselves in the image conscious, and ever self-preserving, protective ways of tough and grown. None of us were here by choice nor were any of us interested in the true definitions of what we were or why we behaved as we did. We were all there because we had to be. In most cases, the courts were the reason. In some cases, parents were the reason. However, none of the cases were ever voluntary.
Withholding names for obvious reasons of anonymity and since age and time have separated me from them and me from that time in my life, I go back to my memory of the people as they were —or should I say I go back to how we all were in that group. We were a small few, unwillingly taken out of our environment for our own protection, and placed in a treatment facility that was far from the streets we knew.
We were either harm to ourselves or to those around us and all of us were on our way to an early grave.
Our stories varied with intensity and so did our backgrounds. We were young, unsure, but acting cool as if we knew it all. But there was real pain in this group. There were real stories here of true abuse in forms that I had never known could happen or ever thought could possibly exist.
There was neglect here; there were stories of teenage homelessness, teenage prostitution, violence at home, violence in the streets, gang violence too; and there were scars in this room that ran deep.
Some of the scars were self-inflicted and obvious wounds of the flesh; however, there were other scars here, which were much deeper too. These were the scars of young abandoned and unwanted hearts. They were the scars told in stories of say, a young girl emancipated from her abusive parents, homeless, but selling her early developed body at a young age to live in an upstate flophouse with no electricity or heat.
The scars I learned about were scars from beatings like say, from a drunken father that beat his son literally cross-eyed, disfiguring the boy’s face.
To this day, These were the toughest people I have ever met. And they were also some of the greatest most loving people too.
We sat in the group with a counselor, of course, who led us through topics. And we talked and we talked, and we talked some more but no one was ever willing to delve deeper than flesh or surface level. On some occasions; however, one of the members would break open. And this was unlike anything I had ever seen before. This was true pain. This was real emotion, undressed and undecorated.
At this point, I was unwilling and unready to be honest to the degree that would help me. I was still playing with the ideas of running or leaving or trying to find a way to beat the court system. This way I could get back to my old self and at minimum, at least go home. But there was no such luck.
I learned some of my greatest lessons in places like this. And while as raw as one could imagine—I saw the worst of the world and what could happen to a young mind when beaten. I saw the poorest of the poor here and I watched them stand on their own two feet on a daily basis. I understood that society and stigma considered them to be weak; however, stigma is inaccurate.
Even now, close to 30 years later; I remember this room and the roommates I had at the time. I am sure that some failed in their own way. I would not be surprised to learn that some of those I sat with are no longer here on this Earth.
I knew of some who immediately went back to their color-defined gang life and the gun-life warfare in California. If I’m not mistaken, I think we hear about one young man in particular. He didn’t even last two weeks. He didn’t even survive his own “Welcome Home” party —supposedly, he was shot dead by his rivals wearing an opposite gang color bandanna.
I’m not sure if I ever knew what fear was. I just knew I was always afraid. I was afraid to be me. I was afraid to be both noticed and unnoticed. I was afraid in crowds and uncomfortable in my own skin. I was afraid of the social separations and the different crowds and I was always afraid that I would not and could not fit in. I was always so goddamned uncomfortable.
I was afraid of being beaten up. I was afraid of being bullied. I was afraid of being exposed, or being shamed, or being chewed up and torn to bits by the gears in the local rumor factories and gossip mills.
This was my thing behind the thing. And these fears were feelings tied to early experiences. This is why I always felt the need to protect myself and act before being acted upon.
This is why I always went overboard to be accepted. This is why I always paid the higher consequences and why I always went too far with what I did —because maybe, just maybe; maybe if I were accepted (or believed I was acceptable) I could rest easy and feel more comfortable in my own skin.
But this was not the case.
I tried too hard for too long. I imploded and folded inward into myself —and sinking deeper, the fears took hold and became painful; therefore, I acted and responded out of pain. And while in pain, it was impossible to feel comfortable. Therefore, I responded
I acted as if. I acted as if I didn’t care and as if you or anyone else in the room or the world was indifferent to me. I wanted to be heartless, but I couldn’t be. I wanted to be absent of feeling, to be free, to be fearless.
I wanted to forget things. I wanted to forget the ridicule I felt in school when I was a small boy. I wanted to forget an unwanted touch that my memory blurred. I wanted to forget that I never felt like I fit, that I never belonged anywhere, that I always felt misshapen, or unfit, or unlike anyone else; therefore, I got high.
I drank. I screamed without words by acting as wildly and loudly as possible. I felt most alive while closest to death.
And at the end my drug use, I found myself cloaked in the warm cocoon of heroin. I was in the nod and distant from you or anything else. The thought machine stopped. The things that bothered me weren’t as bad anymore. I was gently suspended and removed elsewhere with my eyes half-closed. My mouth hung open as if my jaw muscles lacked the strength to close it and the previous mindset was drifted elsewhere. I felt most alive here, which was somewhere near the edge of life and afterlife. There was no pain here. There was no fear anymore —at least not the same fears anyway
Fear: [feer] noun —a distressing emotion brought on by danger or pain. A reason for deep concern, anxiety, apprehension; something that causes feelings of dread or apprehension of something a person is afraid of.
Verb —to regard with fear, to be afraid of; to consider the unpleasant, the painful, the worrisome, and to consider the details of an outcome or the propensity of loss: to have fear to be afraid of life, dying, living, or the discomforts of people, places, and things (like phobias) such as a fear of heights.
Fear is an excellent motivator. (So is pain, by the way)
Fear and pain, and shame, and guilt, and frustration, social discomfort, anxiety, apprehension; these are the things that motivated me to run. The only problem was that I ran in the wrong direction. I had no idea the direction I chose only made the matters worse. I thought at least at minimum; I could put myself in the nod and yes, while in the nod, I felt absolutely none of those things. The only problem is the nod was only temporary. When it ended, the problems were still at hand; only, worse now because the problems were still there and now I needed more.
I don’t spend as much time thinking about behavior as much as I do with dealing with the reasoning behind it.
Throughout my last few presentations and classes, I refer to addiction and alcoholism as a self-destructive response disorder. In my best efforts to feel better, in turn, I felt worse. All I wanted to do was settle the long list of fears, which I had kept buried inside, and this is what nearly killed me.
All I ever wanted to do was run away because I never thought I was brave enough or able enough to be better. Then again, same as I never knew what the true definition of fear is; I never knew the real definition of bravery either.
And sometimes . . . Sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is simply make an appearance and show up. I took time, but I learned how to do this on a daily basis
By the way, that friend of mine that was beaten cross-eyed —one day, his father came up to the facility for a visit. The old man, as vicious as he was, didn’t get passed the double doors in the vestibule. At last, my friend understood the ability of his size and strength. My friend decided that he wasn’t afraid anymore. I have never cheered for a beating so loudly in my entire life.
As I recall, the counselors ran to break it up; and they probably would have broken this up sooner if they didn’t have to hold the rest of us patients back.
God, I loved that kid.
I always think of him and the way we talked about being afraid. I remember the night before his father came up. I remember the look on his face when he told me, “Benny man, I just don’t want to be afraid anymore.”
In closing, whenever I find myself stuck in fear and feelings of depression, I try to look back and see where these fears began. I think of the feelings I had and the experiences I tied them to. It’s simple enough to say “Let it go,” but it’s another thing to do it.
See, I never knew it was okay to give myself permission to not be afraid anymore
And trust me, that helps . . .