Sure, everyone has an opinion. . .
Everyone thinks they know better. They get their information in drips and drabs and bits and pieces so that can create their opinions. This way they can act worldly, like they’re an authority. But the truth is no one knows. No one gets it. They just point their fingers and feed into the stigma . . .
Angelo was a short man, scrawny, always looking for an angle and always looking for some way to compensate himself. He believed he had to make up for his lack of height and size and lack of education.
He grew up in a normal, everyday family with the same, normal, everyday dysfunctions as anybody else.
Angelo had a mother and a father. He had aunts and uncles, a grandmother and a grandfather. They had family gatherings and Sunday dinners which began at 3:30.
Angelo grew up in a strict Italian home where Grandma cooked sauce, made pasta, and prepared meals for the entire family.
Grandpa used to make his own wine before passing away at the age of 82. Grandma was called Nonna and Grandpa was called Nonno, which translates the honor of their family titles in Italian.
There home was humble, traditional, and styled like the stereotypical Italian home. There was plastic coverings over the couches and plastic runners along the carpeting. There were pictures of Jesus on the wall, family pictures, and photos of Italy. There was always a tablecloth on the dining room table, pressed perfectly, and there was always food in the home. Nonna had a clothing line outside in the backyard where she loved to air dry the clothes once springtime was warm enough.
There was no shortage of love here. There was no abuse. There was a strict work ethic. Angelo’s father was a union man with strong hands named Paul.
His wife Marie was short and kind but overly motherly and could often be loud when Angelo or his older brother Anthony disobeyed or behaved poorly.
Anthony moved away by the age of 19 after he completed his two-year degree in community college. His fate led him to a bad argument while away on vacation during his 21st birthday.
He was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras when a verbal argument broke out between Anthony’s friends and another group. Later on, Anthony separated from his friends to chase after a pretty girl. He was found the next morning, beaten to death, and left at the bottom of a bridge.
Angelo was only 15 at the time of Anthony’s death. This caused a strict attention to Angelo’s safety. His mother was always concerned about where Angelo went and who he was with.
Marie never stopped mourning the loss of her first born. She went to church regularly, lit candles, and attended confession on a weekly basis.
Paul was outgoing until the loss of his oldest son. After his son’s passing, Paul was quiet and often resolved his day by drinking himself to sleep at night.
Although, intellectually, Paul knew the loss of his son was not his fault; emotionally, Paul blamed himself for not raising Anthony to know better. As Paul saw it, perhaps Anthony would still be alive if he only knew how to handle himself the right way.
Angelo grew up fast. He was never as tall or as popular or as charismatic as Anthony. He was always known as Anthony’s kid brother. This was hard for Angelo. He wanted to be his own man but Angelo never knew how to step out from behind the shadows of his older kin.
Angelo’s parents gripped tightly and tried to keep him from running around the neighborhood. They punished Angelo. They kept a tight leash, but eventually, the leash broke free.
Angelo found himself a new identity. He rebelled. He rebelled in school because he never understood the lesson plans and struggled in class.
He was often compared to his older brother by the teachers and the older crowds in social circles.
Everyone knew Anthony. Everyone loved him.
Everybody loved Angelo as well, but to Angelo, he saw himself as a byproduct. He was the kid brother, lost in the shadow of his older brother, and stuck with the reminder of Anthony’s passing.
Although his parents tried, it was hard to bring Angelo in and keep him safe. He was never strong but Angelo was no stranger to fights and beatings. Angelo had a slight tick that twitched in his left eye. He was dark haired, thick eyebrows, olive-skinned, and boyish looking.
He was always searching, always looking to find his place in the circle, and always trying to feel better. But to no avail.
It all started as a good idea. They were just trying to have a little fun. But this is how it all starts, punk kids, looking to be tough; looking to dare the edge and become rock stars.
Kids do crazy things to prove themselves. Some of Angelo’s crew would light a cigarette lighter and let the flame heat the metal parts that surrounded the flame.
When the lighter was hot enough, they would turn and push the heated metal into their arm to burn their skin.
The idea: no flinching.
You take the pain. Any flinch would lead to ridicule. You can snarl. You could make an expression, as if to eat the pain, but at no point whatsoever, could there be a hint of suffering.
All you could do is endure.
Angelo endured . . .
But drugs helped.
It started out with drinking because hey, everybody drinks. If one felt good then two felt better. Everything starts out as an experiment. But then the experiment feels so damned good that you just can’t resist.
The highs progress from there, which is the quicksand that pulls people under, and suddenly, the things that were once unthinkable turn out to be a good idea.
Trouble followed mischief and mischief resulted in fights at home. Angelo would run away, sometime for days, but he would eventually come back; often with a new scar or a black eye or something resulting from a fight or a fall.
He smelled awful when he came home. The charm behind his eyes slowly began to vanish. His face looked drawn. He was losing so much weight and his voice was slower, sounding lazy, as if too many brain cells were burned away.
He was reckless. He was crazy. Or at least, he tried to be. Angelo was trying to reach for the edge. He was searching for something. More accurately, Angelo was searching for anything that could take him away from his place in reality.
He never fit. He was a good kid at heart. Angelo was loved by his family. He was just lost. That’s all. He was lost and had no way to find himself.
No one expects their kid to find their way into the wrong places at the wrong time. No parent ever expects to find their child with a needle in their arm, —or worse, in the emergency room of a North New Jersey hospital after an overdose. No one wants to find their child this way, dirty and homeless, after living on the streets and begging for change to feed their habit.
No parent is prepared for this. No one knows the right things to say. And certainly, no parent knows what to do when arriving in the emergency room to find their child, tied to machines to make him breathe and monitors to check his heart rate, hoping to God, while praying, “Please show mercy.”
No one ever expects this . . .
I have been involved with several scenarios just like this. In fact, the scenario I have provided is a true story compiled from all the lives of my previous clients when I acted as a specialist.
While on call, I would be deployed to hospitals after an overdose to help addicts receive treatment instead of returning back to their deadly habit.
I have seen people from all different backgrounds, white, black, Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, atheist, moms and dads, old and young.
I see people who find themselves to be fit as the judge and jury to condemn others; meanwhile, there is no common face when it comes to this epidemic. There is only a common problem.
The worst deployments were the fatal ones. They are lifeless. They lay there on the gurney, just a shell, and their brain is shut off.
The worst are the ones that suffer alone. They are by themselves, looking up at the ceiling, and trying to figure out how they got themselves to this point.
Or wait, no. maybe the worst are the ones that have families that arrive at the hospital, wondering where they went wrong or what they could have done differently
The worst are the ones that I knew from a previous overdose. I knew them. I was there when they were saved the last time and rather than agree to treatment, they went back to their old routine and found themselves in the hospital again.
I received a call a while back from someone I visited in the hospital after their last overdose.
“I just wanted you to know I am still alive.”
He made it out . . .
I swear this was the most impactful and meaningful message I have ever received in my life.
I understand we need to educate people on the losses and the fatalities. I agree that we need to honor those who suffer so they will find the courage to seek help.
We also need to inform people that success is possible.
You can get out of this.
You can get out of this right now, if you choose to.
People do clean up . . .
But the news and the media will often show otherwise.
Besides, what’s so newsworthy about someone that woke up, lived, went home, and had a successful day?
There’s no secret.
Everyone knows there’s an epidemic
People are dying at such a rate that this has lowered the age of life expectancy in our country.
Can you believe that?
If you ask me, I think we need to promote the people who’ve made it.
We need to promote how they reached their level of success.
We need to shout this out to inspire others . . .
this way, maybe they can do it too
Hey, I just wanted to say I enjoyed your blog this morning. I agree with you. There is a stigma going on and more than one about recovering addicts and using addicts. I guess it is true. No one knows really unless they have lived the reality of loving an addict or being one their self or both. We should promote the ones that have made it. Instead, it is normally the ones still using or overdosing that is mentioned. For me personally, the worse stigma I have had to deal with is people never change their opinions of you. I am forever stained by my past. Even after being sober for three years! I am still faced with so many that still see me as an addict still using. Does that ever change? Will it ever be that I am respected and trusted as much as other sober people (that have never been an addict before) ??? From an addict’s view. These stigmas can be VERY discouraging. I just want a chance to prove myself to these people. How long should one pay for their mistakes? Well, anyway, I gotta go lol I would love to say much more about the much harder life is including, well, nearly everything compared to people who have never had an addiction. I chose this life though, don’t get me wrong. I made my choices and I am responsible for them. I loved that you got that call. It made my morning just reading your blog about this so I can only imagine how you felt to receive that call. I think any bad news will always spread faster and easier than good news…This is simply the world we live in, right?
Sent you an email last night. I can relate. The truth is I found a lot of my links to the past were the links in my mind. In my case, my insecurities and my shame was overwhelming. So much so that I had panic attacks if I knew I would be somewhere with people from my past or people that I assumed were judging me. I struggled with depressive thinking and self harm self-sabotage, and the other thoughts, the bad ones, the ones that suggest an ultimate end would be the best solution.
I wondered what people thought or what they would remember or think about the person I was or am. I encountered those who loved to link me back to the person I used to be. But I wasn’t that guy anymore. Why wouldn’t they just let me go? Why not just let me change and let me be the new me? (If there was a new me.)
In my case, I had to come to the understanding that I did not make the changes in my life for anyone else. I didn’t get clean for them. I did this for me. Eventually, I came to a comfortable spot in my life where I stopped caring about what others thought and realized how truly unimportant the outside opinion of me is.
My problem was always shame based. Once I dealt with my shame it didn’t matter what others thought or said or did. I was free to be me.
Not gonna lie though. This took a lot of work and therapy and personal training. But like you are well aware, it does get easier and there is a way to get well. Please stick with me on my journey. I am like you. I am exactly like you and you know what? I need friends that understand too
Thank you for the reply back. I agree and understand exactly what you mean. I still fight my own battles with my own unhealthy thoughts. I have my very own set of negative sentences that come through when I am out trying to be social and I know they are just my own insecurities. I guess that is why in person I prefer not to be social. lol Because sober me cant really handle it all that well. Plus everyone is either wanting to hang out and drink or the ones that really just do not like me no matter what are there.and yea I shouldnt care. But I do. I did get clean for me but I just have idk this need to be liked and accepted I guess. Yes, not all of it is in my head. But most of it is. I dont think mine is shame based but definitely based on a insecure thing unless they are linked. You have given me much to think about. Thank u for your words.
You are going to do wonderful things in your life.