It was not until my last days on the farm that I was able to process the change that was about to take place. Close to my departure, the feeling was very surreal to me. The place that had been my home for the last 11 months would no longer the place where I lived. The people I depended on, the routine I became accustomed to, the scenery, the groups and the counseling sessions, the rules I had to follow and the place where I slept, showered, ate, and worked was about to change.
This is when the reality set in. At last, I could wake up without listening to a dorm manager count to 20 at the top of his lungs. At last, I did not have to be out of bed with feet on the floor, bunk made, and on my way to my morning chores by the count of 20.
I was no longer a dorm supervisor or senior member. I did not and would not have to ever do fire watch again, which was a task set up in the middle of the night during the cold winter months to make sure the wood-burning furnace was stocked and burning in the main house.
Now that I was home, this meant I could eat what I chose to eat and when I chose to eat it, —and, if I was not finished with my meal or the taste was not for me, that would be fine, I could simply discard the contents of my plate into the trash.
However, this was not the case on the farm. No all meals had to be completely finished. There was no choice in the menu. There was no concern if the members of the house liked the food or not. The rules here were strict; all was to be eaten down to an empty plate without exception.
The fact that I was leaving meant that I was free to drink coffee or tea without asking permission or at scheduled times. I could have either decaf or regular at will without asking for permission. I could go to the bathroom without asking for permission. I could watch television. I could listen to music. I could stay up late or go to bed early. I could wake up according to my own schedule, although, somehow the early morning wake-ups became automatic for me.
For the 11 months of my stay, I had to ask permission for nearly everything. But this was about to change. I was days away from my departure and days away from a time, which I thought would never come soon enough.
I was excited to be back in the real world. I was excited for the idea that I could return home as a new man, cleaned up with a sober mind, and at last, perhaps I could live a better life.
Maybe I could enjoy the simple things like say, a walk in Eisenhower Park around the pond where I could stop at one of the benches with say, a girl of my choosing, and we could enjoy the sunset together. Which, this is not to say there were no beautiful sunsets on the farm. In fact, I loved the sunsets here; however, an idea of romance was limited to unspoken thoughts because romance was against the rules.
Finally, I was about to be on my way home. I would not have to shower in a room with an entire dorm waiting in line. There would be no more two-minute showers. There would be no more sitting next to someone while on the toilet. No more smelling a bunk mate’s body odor. In fact, there would be no more bunk mates whatsoever, and more, there would be no more sounds of bed springs squeaking in the middle of the night, which is a sound that I will refrain from describing.
The fact that I was home meant the rules I was made to follow were behind me now. The farm was behind me now too and so was the person I was before I arrived there. My issues with emotional pains and the regrettable memories, which haunted me, and the insecurities that crippled me and the sad and desperate separation when I lost my Father, The Old Man; they were all behind me now.
Yet, at the same time, my sense of importance and my feelings of belonging, my circle of friends and the people I knew, loved, and lived with on a daily basis were all behind me now too. I never thought I would miss this place. I never thought I wished I could go back. I certainly never thought I would grow to depend upon this place.
During my time on the farm, I was considered as a senior member. I ran cleaning crews and dish crews. I was a barn boss before the farm sold the animals. I was trusted with keys to close the main house at night. I was loved and respected. I was cared for but mainly, I was regarded by my circle of influence.
While on the farm, I was always involved and invited. Who would I be now that all of this was behind me?
At any given point, if I needed someone to talk to; if I needed support, if I needed a friend or needed help with a question, I had the pick of anyone to talk with.
If I was feeling afraid or insecure; I could walk up to one of the other house members and talk to them about literally anything (So long as it was honest.)
If I fell too deeply into myself and it appeared as though trouble was coming my way, there was always someone there to help turn me around. There was someone there to help me if I could not help myself. We were a family and although I might not have liked everyone I lived with; I never hated anyone I lived with. Then again, of course, my early months of stay were not like this.
No, I cannot say that I appreciated my time or the company during the early months of my stay. I hated the rules. I hated the counselors. I hated the dorm leader and his loud, shouting count to 20 when the alarm went off in the morning. I hated the people and their honest, clean-cut lifestyle.
I was always being disciplined. I was made to wear signs around my neck, —one of which said, “Ask me why I’m a spoiled brat,” to which other members in the house would stop to ask and I would have to answer this question humbly and respectfully. I had to sit in corners. I had to wax big floors on my hands and knees with only a little cloth.
I was shot down and sent to clean dishes in the pot sink. I was on sanctions. I was yelled at frequently. There was to be no flirting or fraternization with the females in the household and yes, I was in trouble for this too.
In the beginning, I was resistant. I was angry and hateful. But when the month of December came around and The Old Man passed, something changed for me. I was so young and so scared. And finally, I just couldn’t hide from myself anymore.
I couldn’t hide from the pain. I couldn’t hide from the regrets and I could not get away from the pictured memories I had, which were in some cases, the reasons why I chose to narcotize myself and slip gently into an unaffected nod.
I had real friends for the first time in my life. I real people care for me and show real emotion. Sure, I was resistant. But everyone is resistant in the beginning.
I was fresh from a life that was opposite of what the farm was teaching me. I was neither honest nor willing to be or willing to change and improve. As I saw this; I was just trying to beat the court systems. I just wanted to beat jail; however, there is a saying in the recovery world: “Get the body in and eventually, the mind will follow.”
This was my case.
I was far from willing to give up my previous life; however, after the painful recollections and realizations of my past; after the open exchange in groups and through true emotional searches with my counselor —I underwent an incredible and unthinkable transformation. No matter where I was or the hour of day, there was always someone to talk to.
But life was not this way back home. In real life away from the farm, most people are self-absorbed. Most people are self-serving. In many cases, the words, “How you doin,” mean different things but in my neck of the New York woods, “How you doin,” seldom means, “Hey, how are you doing?”
The strangest of all moments was the day I walked into my childhood home. I knew this place well, but yet, everything was so strange and foreign to me. I think for the first time, this is where I saw exactly who I was.
I felt afraid. I felt ashamed about the wreckage of my past. I was scared of the memories I might interact with. I was afraid of the shame I would feel going forward. I was also afraid of the re-connection with old fears and old pains that I swore, I would never feel them again.
I remember when I went into my bedroom for the first time and returned to the scene of a crime.
Although the bedroom looked different because it was being remodeled, all I could see was the reminder of my old hiding spots, which I never dared to check. I never looked to see if any remnants of my past were tucked away, hidden, or buried somewhere like a secret body.
However, I did find a few of my old tools of the trade that were hidden away. I found an empty packet with the work “King” marked on it. This was the remnant of my last bag of heroin. I found a glass pipe that was all broken and burned from my last crack session. I found a few hidden razor blades and my flask that still had a splash or two of gin, which of course, I immediately dumped out.
I knew where I hid a small .25 caliber pistol that I was going to use for a tragic end instead of facing the risk of me serving time. Fortunately, however and obviously, I never used the small pistol nor did I have to serve my expected time of one year, plus 90 days.
The strangest realization was this room belonged to me. I could see the details of who I was and how I lived. I could see things I left behind and I could remember exactly the way I felt at the time. I liken this to a homicide scene where the bodies are removed but the outline remains, hauntingly, as if to say, “Something terrible happened here.”
I could see my new reflection as opposed to my old reflection, and more, I saw the truth of who I was, which was a painful truth that I once swore I would never feel again.
I recalled my desperation. I recalled my depression and the long nights of horrible lonesomeness and tragic contemplation.
I was face to face with my previous sickness and face to face with the facts of my past. I recalled my ideas of outrage and plots for revenge, the plans, the ideas of burning down the bowling alley on Front Street, blowing up the Mobil gas station, and destroying all the people who in my eyes, had somehow destroyed me first.
In fairness, the only difference between today’s school shooters and me back then is that I did not have the help of social media to nurture my sickness.
Had I not been caught for a crime; had I not been removed from my environment and had I not been taken out of my element —perhaps, I would have been a mark in a different column on a statistics chart.
When I came home, I was afraid. Mainly, this was because I saw who I was. I was afraid because I understood why I did what I did. I knew how I used to protect myself. But now that I have returned and now that the person I was had been purged from me; how would I defend myself from the fears now?
Back on the farm, I would have had a friend to talk to about this.
But I wasn’t on the farm anymore.
Had there been someone there that knew me the way my friends on the farm did, perhaps the transition would have been easier.
I had no re-entry program. I was never re-acclimated or even acclimated at all. No, I was home without warning. I was back to the scene of the crimes and back to the room that knew all of my darkest secrets.
I swore in my early months at the farm, I couldn’t wait to get home. I always thought about the day I would leave. I thought about what it would be like to get away from the house and the house rules. I thought about how it would feel to wake up and no one would be around, to be happily alone, and to be free. But yet, there I was home, on my own and away from the rules and I found myself missing the structure I grew to depend on.
I was afraid and uncomfortable. I couldn’t talk with any of the friends I grew up with because most of them were still sick and going through the journey of their own addiction. I went to 12-step meetings but still, there was a feeling of emptiness. I felt strange and out of place.
How would I interact now?
What kind of friends would I have?
And where would I make these friends?
I was young. Young people go out. Young people drink. Young people drive around and go crazy. But I didn’t drink. I never went out. I never drove around and went crazy. Instead, I was home, alone, and bored.
There is a reason why I went to the farm. I went for help to get me away from my previous choices. I had the help I needed but I didn’t have any help re-acclimating back to regular life.
Maybe my relapse could have been avoided if had help during this transition. Maybe if I had better life skills and a re-entry plan, followed up with a better support team; maybe I wouldn’t have felt my old inadequate feelings. I was a part of something on the farm but when I came home, I felt like I wasn’t a part of anything.
My need for a life’s adjustment was necessary and important; however, my need to readjust to regular society was also necessary. Unfortunately, that need was not met and eventually, I went back to my previous way of thinking. I went back to my previous behavior, and inevitably, to cure the old ways of thinking, I went back to my previous friends to cure that previous itch, which I could never quite reach.
I was angry and resentful. I felt forgotten about and left out. It was hard for me to think of the people I lived with and how they could just leave and resume life as if we never knew each other. Put simply, I lost a sense of my identity. I lost my sense of importance. I lost myself but worse, I lost my time in sobriety.
I remember the transaction that took place. I remember the exchange, which at the time, was more than just money for drugs. I exchanged my worth for a few hundred dollars of vials. And when the tiny white rocks fell from the vial into the pipe, I traded away all that I achieved and all that I valued for a blast on a crack pipe. And then it was over
When the overwhelmed by the drug and the high took over, I thought about the actor Robert Powell as Jesus in movie Jesus of Nazareth. When the smoke filled my lungs to do its trick, I thought of the scene when Jesus died on the cross and said His last words. “It is accomplished.”
And so it was.
I sacrificed all that I had and all that I had rebuilt. I gave away the trust I regained. I lost more than one year of clean time and with all my heart, I hated me. I hated you too and I hated everyone else in the world.
I saw everyone as a reminder of what I had done. I saw people as if they were the light that exposed the darkness of my sin. Therefore, I ran and I ran and I ran as fast as I could until 24 hours later, my lips were burned from the glass pipe. My eyes were wired open like possessed demons. My heart was as broken as my soul, and in the end, all I wished I had done was said no when I had the chance to walk away.
I didn’t want to be back where I was. And the truth of it all was nothing had changed. Nothing was better. The addiction was there, waiting for me, and laughing as if to say, “I knew you’d be back!”
In my head, I thought, “This is just me.”
“This is how I’m supposed to be, fucked up, and that’s it!”
“I’m a loser,” I thought to myself
This was me on April 1st, 1991.
I found myself in a minivan, filled with stolen equipment, and driving around with a nickel-plated .357 revolver beneath my driver’s seat. Fortunately, the original plan scheduled (which I refrain from description) that took place on that night did not go down as planned. But it almost did.
I wished I had someone to help me understand that this was not true.
This is addiction
This is why I believe in reentry programs. I believe in them because I understand their purpose. Back in 1991, I wished I had someone to help me understand that the lies in my head were not true.
This is why I do what I do
This is why I want to build my farm
I want to pick up where my old farm left off and correct the things I wished I could have changed about my re-entry and my treatment plan. And oh yes, I do have a plan