There were times when I wondered what my life would have been like if I were different or grew up in a different neighborhood. I wondered what would have happened if turned right instead of left that on last Sunday night in August, 1989.
Where would I have been or how would I have grown if I chose not to return a phone call one morning before a terrible decision? Or, what would have happened if I said “No” to a car ride the first time I saw a crack pipe?
I used to wonder what my life would have turned into if I had stood up for me or stayed true to myself—because instead of being true to me, I just rehearsed the things I wished I could say.
I can remember conversations I’d have in my head, which were nothing more than old conversations, replaying in my thoughts —only this time, I practiced what I wished I would have said (or could have said) to renegotiate the past and re-litigate the terms of old argument to come out on top.
I was tired of feeling weak, tired of regret, tired of shame, blame, guilt, and fault. More than anything I was tired of the energy it took to find accountability for everything that happened in my life.
The Old Man was gone and I had to continue. I went back to the farm and put on my best face to get through the remainder of my time where, which was easier now because I was removed from my life. I was living elsewhere with distractions and work to replace my thinking.
Eventually, my identity changed. The way I referred to me changed. It was easier to adapt to my surroundings on the farm because yes, it is true; people, places, and things can, do and will have an effect on us and the way we think, live, and feel.
My time on the farm came to an end just one month shy of a full year. Somehow, fate changed and the facility lost their ability to treat alcohol abuse disorders. This was because they did not have a full medical staff on duty—and since there was alcohol abuse in my story, I was sent back to another rehabilitation center for a two week evaluation, in which it was determined that since there was, in fact, history of alcohol abuse—therefore, effective immediately, I was to be released from my time on the farm and sent back home with an undetermined future of what would come next.
I was on probation, which meant I had to report there immediately. There was talk about me going back to another place, again, for a long period of time, but so long as I sought treatment at home and attended 12-step meetings, it was agreed that I could be home and not have to be placed anywhere else.
I was excited and nervous, plus, scared and relieved. Maybe I could go home and have a “Normal” life, if there was such a thing.
Maybe I could go home and not feel like such an outsider all the time—or, maybe I could meet a girl and be someone I always wished I could be.
The one thing I can say for certain about my re-entry into the world was the adjustment was uncomfortable. I was home, which meant there was no one watching me. I could sleep without hearing the annoyance of other bunk-mates or the sound of bed-springs creaking in the night.
There were no more two-minute showers. I could eat whatever I chose, whenever I chose to, and if the meal wasn’t finished or the flavor wasn’t right—if I didn’t want anymore, I could do as I chose with the leftovers instead of be forced to finish them.
I could have more food or less if I wanted at any given moment. I could have coffee whenever I chose to and watch television or listen to music.
I could do anything now because I had my freedom back. However, there was oddly a downside to all of this. I became used to living a certain way.
I was also used to having people around me that cared and asked simple questions like, “How are you?”
Society asks questions like this too but no one seems to ever stick around for the answer.
“How are ya,” is more like “Hello,” which means it is customary thing. However, on the farm, “How are you,” meant, “How are you?” and people stayed around to listen for the answer. There was support at any given moment and nothing was lonely there. Lonesomeness was not allowed; there were strict rules against isolation; therefore, even if you wanted some space to be alone, it never happened which sucked at first but eventually, I grabbed on and found comfort in others.
When I came home, I went back to the house I grew up in. Only, I was not the same kid anymore. I felt the loss of my Father. I felt the loss of my time that was spent away at the farm. I saw people from my town—only, no one recognized me, which was a good thing because this meant that I looked better—but still, it would have been nice to have a social life.
There was something missing. Then again, there was always something missing.
I always felt different. I admit that I felt sufficient on the farm but this is because I lived in a forced community —It was the same as it was in grade school. All of us were forced to be in the same room with the same kids. Everyone knew about each other.
The pond of people was small and social events were less intimidating. But now I was home and back in the real world where people walk passed without saying anything. No one really cares about anyone but themselves. I was reintroduced to the ideas of status and popularity, which was uncomfortable because I was unsure how to fit in with this new role of mine.
As I detailed the events in my journal, to look back and see where all of this became so troublesome, I began to see where my connection took me back to distorted thinking.
The cognitive mind is the way we gather information. This is our center for problem solving. This is where our misconceptions come into play.
This is the part of our thinking that jumps to conclusions. This is where black and white thoughts come from; it’s all or nothing.
This is where emotional input comes in to interpret reality to shape my perception, which, of course, perception of truth is not always true —it was just true to me because I believed this way.
There is an argument between distorted thinking and reasoning versus neural pathways, which is the connection that sends signals to the nervous system in which the idea is to unplug this connection to create neural plasticity.
I am not sure, which is which. I am not a doctor or a clinician. I was just someone that wanted to feel better about myself (but I didn’t know how to.) I had to begin my own research in order to understand where the connections steered me in ways I never wanted to be.
I never realized the importance of identity or the lack thereof is what kills us sometimes. I was always vacant, always trying to find the right things to say.
There are times when insecurity stepped in—and there were times when I was in conversation with someone, maybe a girl, or maybe it was someone I wanted to impress, or it could have been anyone —ether way, I’d speak and find myself in the uncomfortable sound of my last few words, repeating in my mind, over and over again. Then I would try to say something to fix this; I would try to say something to redeem myself or my discomfort—only to have those words come out even worse and dig the hole deeper.
I swear, it seemed the harder I tried the more uncomfortable I became. This is insecurity. This is also the cognitive mind. This is where I stored my ideas and trained opinions. This is where my subconscious programming lived. This is also where I stored my arrows to shoot down the clouds of my dreams.
This is where my black and white ideas came in to play—as in all or nothing, win or lose, loss or gain, and where my generalizations and emotion-based ideas deformed my interpretation of the life that went on around me.
One would think that after more than one year in treatment that began in one facility for 28 days, and then another for 42 days, and concluded with 11 months in a therapeutic community that all of this would have been settled in my mind.
However, rehab talks about awareness. They teach about the effects of drugs and alcohol. They offer resources to seek help, which enables us to understand our choices; however, the 12 steps in meetings and other self-help programs cannot and do not overcome chemical imbalances, which I have lived with my entire life.
There was a problem with my chemistry—not my character. The truth is I was always a good person. The fact remains that although at my worst, I was capable of bad things, deep down, I was still a good kid.
More accurately, I was just reacting. I was reacting to my fears and discomforts. I was frustrated.
I came home a changed person. The longhaired, Long Island burnout was gone. I was clean and the facts of my case were sealed. I was given a new chance on life. Yet somehow, something was amiss.
I fell back into old feelings and old ideas. I found myself considering and overthinking old fears and social pressures. And again, there was something wrong with the way I was.
The more I tried to escape this, the deeper I sank into what I call emotional quicksand. I was only home for about six months.
I was good for the first three. But the quicksand came in. I was stuck with the ideas that kept me uncomfortable. I went back to school which was intimidating to me. I lacked the ability to relate to others. I never went to nor did I ever finish high school.
Everyone else my age was taking classes in college. They had longtime high school friends. And me, I came home, basically staying indoors because I could not go back to my old friends —plus, most of my old friends were gone, locked up somewhere, some of them were dead, some of them were banged out on heroin and some were still on crack.
The neighborhood changed. No one could leave their doors unlocked anymore. And I was there for the beginning of this. And some had openly addressed their resentment about this. I was, in fact, a part of this. And there were some that wished it was me that were dead instead of their child, which I turned on to the drug that killed them.
I was there in true fashion to help spread this contagious thing and social virus we call the drug epidemic. I was there to pass the torch and when I came home—I had seen the damage this had done. I saw kids that were altar boys become stick-up kids, breaking into houses, and thieving through the streets.
I came home like a kid without a country. I had no way to identify myself and no way to stand out in a crowd.
Once again, I felt unnoticed, which eventually took me back to the old distortions of my thinking —and then it was me, back to the comparison of water losing to the drain.
I went home to be a good boy in late September. The day before April 1st, 1991, I was driving through parts of Brooklyn with stolen equipment in a minivan with a nickel-plated .357 underneath my driver’s seat.
I am grateful the plans from that night never came to what they were supposed to.
I am grateful that I did not have to wash blood from my hands that night because blood like this will never wash off; however, almost like an old friend opening the door to some that hadn’t seen for a while, —I found myself with a crack-pipe in hand and with one strike from the flame against the glass, I went right back to the old connections and the old methods of problem solving. This is not to say that my problems were solved because no, nothing was solved. The problems only grew worse.
I journaled about the details of my relapse and the degradation of the shame, which nearly killed me. I went back to rehab three months afterwards.
Once more, I was back in treatment. I went back to the 28 day program I entered the first time in Kerhonkson. I fell back into the comforts of institutional living. At least I knew who I was there. I knew how to get by, what to do, what the schedules were like. I had my little job, washing dishes in the kitchen after lunch time.
I figured I could go back there and hide from myself for a while, which was necessary because same as it was the last time I went away, I had the police looking for me for a few things.
I was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon after hitting someone over the head with an aluminum baseball bat.
I was away from all of this. I was clean and yet, somehow, I found myself right back to where I left off.
Enter the resurgence of depression and suicidal ideation. Enter the last real attempt on my own life—but yet somehow, the attempt didn’t work.
Some would later tell me there had to be a reason. But my answer to them was, “Then what is it?”
Some would tell me God has a plan for me.
As I saw it, —if God has a reason for everything He does, then please, someone Have him come explain this to me, because to be honest, I was too stuck in my head to understand any of it.