We are approaching the holiday season and soon enough, the Halloween decorations will give way to Thanksgiving. Next, it will be Christmas and then New Year’s.
Like many others, this time of year can be weighty for me. My family is mostly gone. Some have moved away. Some are not on speaking terms. Others have passed and all that remain is their loving memory. However, I have this memory, which I would like to share with you.
Please put aside any biases you might have. Remove the symptom of my problems and instead, realize how life has a way of passing us by.
Think deeply and relate this to life as you know it and the things we lose as a result of our life choices. It is my hope to express the value of our choices and how they influence the lives around us.
As you read on, think about the life you live. Think about your best version of self-care and how simple it is to lose to degenerative choices that only sink deeper. Think about the people you love. And think about the time wasted in petty arguments that we hold tightly just because we want to be right!
I understand that not everyone will relate to my story. But everyone relates to loss. The following is a memory of mine. This was taken from a time in my life when I was lost~
We were moving closer to Thanksgiving and closing in on the holiday season. The rest of us on the farm wondered what it would be like to be back home.
For most of us, home was not an option. I had picked up a significant charge, which meant that the courts had their way with me. Of course, I did have other choices. I could have chosen prison time but I took a drug treatment program instead, Instead of one year, plus 90 days, I took a program that would have me in an in-patient facility until completion of treatment, or no less than 18 months of institutionalized living.
Of course, this could have been worse. I could have been fenced in and kept in a cage. Instead and for all intents and purposes, I took hold of a program that would give me what some people called, “Goody” time instead of jail.
I had finished not one but two short stays in two different rehabs before arriving at my long-term placement. The first of the two was an adult rehab, which opened my eyes to the truth about the drug culture and the sickness behind alcoholism.
I met real people, capable of terrible things. Yet, at the same time, the people I met were also capable of incredible things.
I listened to their stories. I watched them cry real tears. I was so young then. I was too afraid to be myself and openly discuss my emotions and the exact nature of my wrongs. I was still too anxious and still looking for the angles.
I met the most interesting people at my first place. I met a man that was homeless. He nearly drank himself to death. He was an apple picker, a hobo, a box-car guy that never had much but a bog of old hand-me-down clothes and a few pints to drink .
He had dark, black skin and a thick southern accent. He was thin as me but older than me by at least a few decades.
I never knew much about people from different races. I only knew what I was taught, which was black people were black, white people were white, and neither of the two would ever see eye to eye. It was us against them.
Then again, it’s not like I was learning these lessons from kindhearted people. No, I learned much of my racist thinking by from the knuckleheads in my crowd. I heard remarks from guys by the name of Mad Max who signed the “x” in his name with a swastika.
I learned all about hate at a very young age. I had hate because I thought everyone hated me.
As it was, I was an Irish Jew. And as it was, being Jewish in my neighborhood was far from acceptable.
I grew up in an Irish Catholic, Roman Catholic town. As I said, I learned a lot about hate at a young age.
I learned this when someone put a cross on my neighbor’s lawn and lit it on fire. I learned about it when I was called Heeb and got kicked around for being a Jew. I was called Jew-boy. I was called a lot worse to be honest, which is why I learned how to hate people back because as I saw it, hate was my best defense.
If the truth should be told, I never knew any better. I never really knew about anything. I didn’t know about people—at least, not really.
I only knew what my little mind could hold onto, which was not much. I only knew that I was uncomfortable. I never knew about kindness. I never knew much about charity. I certainly never knew what it mean to be selfless.
The day before I left my first place of treatment, that homeless man asked me to come and see him before I went. He told me he had something for me.
This man never had a new pair of jeans throughout his entire life. Someone from the facility gave him a few pairs. Brand new! Never worn.
He offered me a pair. Said he never had anything so nice, and yet, there he was, offering them to me, a kid that never dared to do anything but steal or destroy. I
was selfish at best but I was only selfish because I thought I had to be. I was a kid, yes, but I was also far from civilized.
I was like a rabid little dog, foaming at the mouth, and nothing and no one could change me.
I stood in this man’s room. He was no longer a black man or a homeless man. He was just a person with a kind heart that wanted to try and save me a little pain by lending me some helpful advice.
“Go on to wherever it is they tell you to go,” he said.
He said, “Just do what you’re told now,” in his southern accent.
“You get away from this life, son. You go out there and live and do be nothin like none of us,” he said.
He told “You got your whole life ahead of you,” and handed me the pair of jeans. I looked at this man in his eyes, which were watering. I stood there, face to face with the reality that I had been taught wrong. I learned that my hatred is a lie.
I accepted the gift and thought about the person I was previously before meeting my new friend. I would have seen him as less-than. I would have seen him as a different race. I would have seen his skin color. All I saw now was the fact that I had been ill-informed; that he was a better man than anyone I had ever met before.
How was it that someone could be so kind to someone like me when all I knew was how to steal and be hateful?
It was here that my transformation began. I admit that I was moved; however, I was far from being sold on living a clean lifestyle.
I was sure that I needed help to get out of trouble; however, I just assumed I would go back home and dabble a little.
I would drink a little. I would play around with some of the less intense things and stay away from the narcotics. I could do it differently, or so I thought. I could dance between the raindrops, so to speak, and figure out the right way to drink and be happy.
After one place, I went to the next. The summer was closing and October was about to begin. There was nothing for me here. There was nothing but others, like me, just looking to fool a judge or clinician so we could get back home and get a little high.
I as resistant. I was an attitude waiting to happen. I was half in and half out, and yet, there was something to the idea of sobriety. There was something to the fact that no one was angry with me. There was nothing else hovering over my head. There was no impending doom. It wasn’t like I felt as if the sky was falling on me.
I wasn’t running from the police. I didn’t have to hide from anyone in my town anymore. I didn’t have to scrounge and steal or try and feed my habit by any means necessary.
My second placement lasted for 42 days. This was a placement designed for adolescents. The attitude was much different. No one really wanted this. Instead, we all lied to the counselors to look good on reports.
By the time of my third and final placement, I was still with my opinion that I could get out (somehow) and go back to my life as it was.
I was far from ready to give up my thinking. I was not about to surrender my thoughts or beliefs.
I certainly did not accept the motto that drugs or alcohol were a problem. I was still sneaky and still looking to beat the system. I thought I could sneak by but the farm was not what I expected it to be. I thought the farm would be a soft version of treatment.
With two stays at treatment and with the completion of two different facilities, I thought treatment was going to be easy.
But I was wrong.
I wanted to hold on to my own opinions but the farm was about to change that. I was sure that I could keep my secrets and breeze through the counseling sessions but the farm would soon prove otherwise.
I thought I could use the system to manipulate my parents but the farm was about to change that too.
This was no rehab or basic treatment facility. This was considered to be a therapeutic community. I had heard about places like this before. I have spoken with others that went to similar institutions and listened to their stories of strict punishments, like cleaning floors on their hands and knees, washing dishes pot sinks, and cleaning the entire facility. The farm had these things.
I heard stories about loud, public confrontations. The farm had this too. I heard stories about people wearing signs and being sat in corners, yelled at and screamed at. The farm had this too.
I was not ready or happy about this. I did not like the rules or regulations. I did not like the early wake-up times.
I didn’t like all the yelling and the work details, the cleaning crews, the barn details at the crack of dawn (or even before dawn.)
There were strict rules about promptness. If anyone from the bunkhouse was late for breakfast without a proper or valid reason it meant the entire bunk was late, which meant no one from the bunk was allowed to eat breakfast.
I hated the kitchen detail. I hated the fact that the expected me to be accountable for myself. They wanted me to be responsible. They wanted me to work. And by they, I mean the powers that be. By they I mean the farm, the counselors, the senior members, and the entire community because if one person was a problem, we were all a problem, which meant we were all failing each other as a unit. So, in an effort to create cohesion among the unit, we all had to be held accountable.
I hated it. I hated the uncomfortable bunk-beds and the 2-minute showers. I hated the toilets that were next to each other, literally going to the bathroom in the open, side by side.
I hated the 20-second rule most, which is when the alarm went off and the dorm leader would count to 20 as loud as he could.
This happened every morning, —and by the time he counted to 20, our feet needed to be on the floor, our bunks made, and each member needed to be on their way to attend their morning job.
This was preparation for life. The truth is life can be this way. Work has a time schedule. If you’re late for work you can be fired.
So be on time.
Did you oversleep?
Guess you won’t have time for breakfast then because you have to get to work on time.
Deal with it. The world does not care if you are tired or having a bad day. Life is still life and bills still have to be paid.
Don’t like the way your boss talks to you?
Too bad. You need the job. Without a job, you can’t pay the rent. And if you can’t pay the rent than you have nowhere to live.
I agree this might have been a bit too much for some of the members, especially since some of them were younger teenagers. However, to this day, 30 years later, I still get up quickly when my alarm goes off. But that’s another story for another time.
I was confronted on the farm. I wore signs around my neck. In fact, I wore a sign around my neck that said, “Ask me why I’m a spoiled brat,” and whomever read the sign would ask me. They would stop me in the hallways and I would have to explain the sign and inform them why I behaved like a spoiled brat.
Safe to say, I wanted to go home. Safe to say I wasn’t sure how long I could take this place. I couldn’t fake sick or pretend here. I couldn’t get around the system. And here it was, Thanksgiving was on its way. Soon, Christmas would be here and then New Year’s.
I started to think about the kids from my town and how their lives were moving along. I thought about the fact that other kids my age were thinking about the college they were going to.
They took driver’s education and made plans to go to their prom with their first love.
I thought about the rites of passage that comes with being a senior in high school. As well, I realized that I never stepped foot in a high school or attended classes at a high school level.
The rest of the world was doing their thing and me, I was away on a farm. I was living the life that came as a result of poor life choices and habits. Once more, the way I lived and the choices I made pushed me further and further away from life as it should be.
Instead of finding my first love or trying to see what I wanted to go to school for; instead of preparing for S.A.T tests or planning to be a doctor or a lawyer, I was on a farm, shoveling pig shit and cow shit.
used to spend a lot of time alone. I used to watch life pass me by. How much more did I have to lose? How much more time did I have to waste?
Eventually, Thanksgiving rolled around. We had our families come up to the farm. We served them meals. We catered to them. And by we, I mean the members of the farm. The Old Man was there. He came up with Mom to spend Thanksgiving with me.
I never knew this was the last time I would ever sit down and share a meal with my Father. In about a month’s time, The Old Man would die. And me, I looked back at the way we were.
I looked back on yet another thing I had lost as a result of my behavioral issues and my depression and angry choices. I looked back at what drugs took away from me. I saw what my drinking led to. I saw what my ideas and my thinking led me to. All of which led me to one thing: Loss.
I was in a counseling session with a man I will name as John.
God bless him.
John, was my friend, my counselor, my mentor, and at a time when I grieved most, my brother.
John asked me a question that I never forgot.
“How much more do you have to lose?”
It was somewhere about this time that I started to come around.
This was the first time that I saw how my choices impacted me and my life.
I started to come around . . .
Know why? It was because I didn’t want to lose anymore.
And that’s just it. This is when people change. They change when they are tired of losing to the same thing, day in and day out.
I was tired alright . . .
I just didn’t want to lose anymore