If you were to go back to me when I was at my worst or if you were to find me, way back when, on the ground, crawling around on the floor and chasing the cocaine demons or, like say, if you were to see me in the holding cells or waiting in the bullpens beneath the courthouse before I was about to see the judge, or maybe if you were to find me when I was older, living better but still depressed and anxious and facing bankruptcy, feeling loveless and empty and looking for a way out but every turn was a dead end, and if you would have come to me in the depths of my anxiety or found me when my insomnia refused to leave like an unwanted guest, when all I could do is lay in bed and toss or turn and then watch the red numbers on my alarm clock, glaring at me in the dark like an insult to injury, or, if you would have found me in the times when I contemplated “The End,” and told me, someday, this is where I’d be —the truth is, I would have sworn, “You’re out of your mind.”
If someone were to tell me that someday, I would speak in schools or that I would be deployed to hospitals as a recovery specialist to get people off of heroin, I’d have just shook my head and said you were crazy.
If you would have told me that someday, I would write about this, that someday, I would be a speaker or if you would have told me that I would be noted on the news or make the front page of the newspaper for working on an initiative with law enforcement, that I willingly spent my Sunday mornings in a county jail to run an empowerment class, or, if you would have told me that I would work with rehabilitation centers and homeless shelters as a motivational speaker, I would have sworn you were lying because (after all) who in the hell would ever want to listen to me.
I never thought this would be me. Then again, I never thought this could be me because what happened to me was nothing short of this; I fell to the ground in full and total submission. I was beaten and fell down on my knees in that small apartment of mine, alone as ever, and torn apart. I looked up at the ceiling, crying with all of my might, as if I was looking straight through the roof, hoping with all that I have that I could scream and appeal to my Maker in whichever form He chose to reveal himself.
I was tired of being alone. I was tired of believing I was worthless. More than anything, I was tired of being weak and tired of believing that I was incapable.
I never believed that I could be anything better than what I was. And how could I be? I was as I historically believed me to be, a failure, a reject, an outcast, and a burden.
I came to a supplication with myself—it was me and my sad surrender, praying with all I have and to whomever would listen to “Please just take this away from me.”
If you would have found me then and told me this is who I would be now, I would have never believed you because put simply, I never knew how to believe in me.
On the day that I decided to begin my journals, I made it clear to myself that I would have to save my own life from this day onward, from now until death do us part.
Along the way, I had my highs and lows the same as everyone else. I had to learn how to challenge my assumptions and change my belief system.
This meant I had to unlearn my trained ideas; I had to identify and understand my subconscious programming and how this disrupted my potential.
More importantly, I had to defy the lies in my head and disprove the whispers of my doubtful insecurity by changing my behavior to change my thinking, which in turn, changed the way I felt about myself.
I was always looking to be something. I was always looking for the pieces of me that I believed were missing —but the truth is, me, you, and anyone and everyone has exactly what we need to survive and improve. It all comes down to the way we connect ourselves to the way we live. In the end, everything boils down to self-care. And to be honest, one thing was for sure, I never knew how to take care of myself.
Same as it was for me as a kid with learning disabilities; I just needed to learn a different way to process my thinking. I needed a different way to understand me and my surroundings so that I would not own or internalize the faults or opinions of others.
I had to learn to forgive me for my past and allow myself to move away from old opinions. To become better, I found it to be a better idea to break away from the singular dogmas of life, that say “This way,” is the “Only way,” because the truth is there are several pathways to live our life.
As I see it, everyone is recovering from something. I have heard others say this as well. We are all recovering from life on life’s terms. No one escapes unscathed. We lose, we fall, but we also have the right to stand back up and try again. Unfortunately, depressive thinking teaches and trains us to believe otherwise.
It became apparent to me that I lived and constructed my life, based upon the wrong blueprint. I had the right intentions but I was trying to build my world according to the wrong plans. I had to find out what this meant to me (and not to anyone else.)
With all sincerity, I meant every word when I sat down and wrote the first words to my journals and said “My redemption has nothing to do with your response,” I meant this because my entire life was lived in response to something or someone else. But no more. No, I had to make a commitment to this, every day.
The idea of depression is catastrophic—I agree, however, the hardest fact to realize was that it was me that held myself prisoner for so long.
It was me that kept me captive.
It was me that gave in. I quit. I constantly gave up because I was too afraid of the rejection or to fail or to believe that no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I reach, I would never be able to touch the face of my dreams.
I used to swear that I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. I swore I didn’t have the energy to live or to get up and try again, which, in fairness and in all honesty, none of this was true.
The truth is I did have the energy. The key word in this sentence is energy; however, energy is just a source. I needed to learn this.
Energy is a source in need of direction —and in my case, I needed to learn how to channel my energy in a different direction.
I had to learn how to nurture my dreams. I needed to nurture my passions by finding my purpose in this world; therefore by giving myself and my time value, I found myself feeling valuable.
I remember at my worst, I was told that I have a spiritual disease, to which I argued this (of course) because I always argued any idea when it came to God or spirituality.
It was explained to me that spirituality is just balance. Spirituality has nothing to do with God or religion. Anything I do to achieve that balance is spiritual; however, with regards to my previous systems of living and considering my compulsions or my quick attempts of temporary satisfaction, the truth is I was always looking for balance. I was just looking to balance the scales and get my head right.
But when it comes to quick fixes and when it comes to addictions and substance abuse disorders; when it comes to alcoholism, the need to relieve depression, or while using any other means of fleeting relief that at best, comes with the results of diminishing returns, —whether it is smoking to satiate an urge or find comfort, or if it’s over-eating, inappropriate lust, attention seeking, lying, stealing, sneaking, faking it, or compromising me in any way just to receive a quick feeling of liveliness or “High,” the truth is I will always be running from one side of the scale to the other, just to keep my balance.
I used to use these outside sources to find my balance; however, sobriety, or perhaps I should say my sobriety is the ability to achieve balance without the use of an outside source.
I chose to stop quitting on myself. I learned how to replace thoughts with action. I chose to find my sense of purpose. And more importantly, I stopped including me with people, places, and things that did not serve my best possible interest.
To beat my depression meant that I had to beat the deception of my perception. I found that practicing better cognitive behavioral skills led me to better living.
I say this often: Replace thought with action.
In my case, I had to find my home team, which essentially is me.
In order to feel a better self-esteem, I chose to do and create acts that improved my self-esteem.
I chose to find my purpose. I gave up the ideas that I was not smart or that maybe I was just plain crazy.
If you would have told me that I would become a writer with following or that people would call me for help, or, if you would have told me that I would eventually take classes to earn certifications to help others find their personal blueprint in life, I swear, it would have been too beautiful of an idea for me to believe it would be true.
I had to create change in my life, which resulted in change. In effect, because I chose to become effective in myself and seek my own state of personal homeostasis, I found myself not only centered, but balanced as well.
I learned one thing above all things that I am my own personal trinity, I am mind, body, and soul. I am thought, emotion, and behavior, I am these three and when balanced, I am me at my best. This is when I am free and comfortable in my own skin.
In my efforts to reach this level of awareness, I had to hold myself accountable for my efforts. This meant above all, no matter what happens to me, rise or fall, I cannot and will not ever quit.
The dedication to myself was lifesaving. This was from me to me and not from a doctor or a therapist. No, this came from within.
This does not mean that I do not have bad days. I have them all the time. I live in the same crazy, mixed up world as you or anyone else.
I have emotions that lead me to places I don’t want to be. I had to learn how to improve with this. I had to learn to trust strategy instead of living my life, hinged upon the emotional brain.
By April 1, 2020, I will be sober 29 years. I had to work for this, which I do because this is my “Thing.” This is me. This is everything about me.
And to be honest, no one picked this to be me. I can remember the last day I was in treatment back in 1991. I sat outside the cafeteria, waiting for the next group to begin.
I was sitting in a chair, overhearing a conversation by a group of others that were sitting at one of the nearby tables to the entrance in the cafeteria.
They were discussing who was going to “Make it,” and who was going to just go back to being more of the same.
I listened as they talked about one person and then another. And then my name came up. Then they laughed.
They all agreed that I would either be dead by the time I got to the end of the property or I’d be found, shot, and stuffed in a ditch somewhere, in prison, or locked up on flight deck in a psych ward or strung out on a methadone program wearing “Liquid handcuffs,” and chained to a habit for the rest of my life. This was their prediction of me based on the way I carried myself.
Meanwhile, none of the men at the table knew that I was within earshot. They had no idea that I heard every word they said, which was heartbreaking to tell the truth.
I thought they were my friends to be honest, but once again, I learned that I was placing value in friends that were never my friends to begin with. Hence, this too is one of the problems with depression. I call this people pleasing and attention seeking, which does nothing else but trigger the spiral of rejection sensitive thinking.
After that, I went to my next group. I sat quietly, beat up because once again, I was part of the gossip mill. I listened to a counselor talk about the statistics of sobriety. He told us that 1 out of every 33 people will make it in sobriety. He said this in a roomful of 35 people. “Look around you,” said the counselor. “The sad fact is that according to statistics, not even two of you will make it.”
“only one of you,” he said.
Then the counselor said, “You just have to decide which one you want to be.”
I decided I wanted it to be me—
There have been different phases of my life. Along the way, I have experienced loss and failure. I have seen great things and bad things alike. Above anything, I had to allow myself the permission to be me to the best of my ability. Most importantly, I had to be mindful of my relationships to keep them mutually beneficial and reciprocal. Otherwise, one-way relationships only led me back to the unfairness of my old ideas of living.
Along the way, I chose to stop these kind of interactions. I never knew what freedom really was until the day that I chose to be brave enough and walk away from groups of people without having the need to get the last word in or even so much as say, “Goodbye.”
Now, there are people I have sat with and together, we’ve spoken in great detail about depression and anxiety. We talked about the structure of our friendships and the boundaries we were taught about from when we were young.
As someone that lived with panic attacks and struggled with social anxiety disorder and depression, I needed to explore new ways to improve.
I needed to discuss this with people that lived with these same threats. And I call them threats because anyone that understands panic attacks and anyone that struggles with high anxiety understands the threat of the attacks are almost as bad as the attacks themselves.
The anticipation of them is incredible enough to create an attack alone. But how do we stop them?
In my experience, there is a steady need for mindfulness, which is a talent all on its own.
I have found breathing techniques to be an excellent source of relief. I learned more about the chemical reaction in our bodies in response to heightened levels of stress.
More importantly, I learned there is a way to improve but again, as it is with any improvement, the secret of endurance must come in to play; to endure, to remain, to be consistent and persistent, by any means necessary.
I learned that a panic or anxiety attack is the overreaction of our fear receptors, which causes an overproduction of calcium. The oxygen levels in our blood go down while the lactic acid levels in our blood goes up.
Breathing allows us to oxygenate the blood, therefore we restore out levels to at least alleviate the physical response.
Next is the need for reassurance. This is when mindfulness enters the scene. We need to distract us from the trigger, which is successful in many cases.
During my attacks, I learned to coach myself to breathe in deeply through my nose, just like I would if I were to smell flowers and then I would breathe out through my mouth, as I would do to blow out a candle.
In times when my anxiety is high, I have learned to shock my system by interrupting my thought process. I say the word “STOP!” in my head—and sometimes, I have said this out loud as well.
(This by the way, definitely caused a shock to a man that sat next to me on a bus into New York City, but hey, what can I tell ya? I was in mid-attack. Besides, there are worse things to hear people say out loud on New York City Streets.)
It is also helpful when facing the discomfort of irrational fears to create a mantra. For example, while inhaling through the nose, one could say to themselves, “This isn’t real,” and when exhaling from their mouth, they can say, “That isn’t happening.”
More importantly are the use of the words “No more!”
There had to come a time when I decided to say this: No more!
No more giving up on me. No more quitting. No more giving myself away for less than what I deserve.
No more trying to fit myself in places where I do not want to be or belong.
No more self-deprecating behavior. No more listening to or interacting with the internal narrative in my head; the one that tells me there is no hope or that why bother trying when there is no hope anyway.
I had to learn to change that narrative in my head by changing my position. I had to learn to trust myself more, to not be so afraid to dare and to try because this is what made the difference between me living with depression or struggling with it.
I know this wholeheartedly that anyone can overcome themselves. They just have to learn which direction suits them best. I am not a fan of one-size-fits-all models. However, I do believe in the benefit of programs.
When asked, I tell people to brave their own path and not be afraid to improve. I assure people that no one has the right to stop you from improving yourself.
I say there needs to be a new dynamic in the way we treat mental health. I think we need to attack the problem and not the symptoms; however, for one reason or another, we have become a society that only addresses the symptoms.
As I complete my thoughts with this page, I’d like to challenge you to think about something.
A while back, I was told that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And where did I learn this? I learned this in rehab. I learned this from therapists and shrinks.
Okay. I get it.
But, we have been treating addiction and alcohol abuse as well as depression and mental illness the same way for decades now. And yet, here we are, expecting different results.
So, who is insane?
Is it us, or is it the people that treat us the same way for our illnesses and expect different results.
Apparently our efforts need to be redirected because the rate of deaths and people dying as a result of mental illness is going up and not down.
I would like to see us step up to the plate. I would like to see us treat mental health on a unique basis.
Our DNA is unique, correct? This means what works for me might not have the same chemical or clinical response for you. Therefore, rather than giving a blanket treatment of one size to fit all, I would like to see people treated on a unique and individual basis with a system that suits them and their chemistry best. MY best suggestion is this; do not go stagnant or stay in the murk. get up and get out. Find your team and keep this sacred.
I have been at this for a while now. I have been compiling my journals in compilations such as Bedtime Stories for The Insomniac and The Junkie Diaries.
I have detailed my journey in the chapters of Sessions from the Balcony, The Daddy Diaries, Letters From a Son, and Something From the Classroom.
There is another plan I have, which I call The Farm that I will name The Second Family in honor of a place that was lifesaving to me all those years ago. This is a dream I have, which I plan to tell you about someday.
I am not done with this journey. At least, I hope not. I’m coaching now. I have been flown across the country to do wellness programs and interventions.
I work on curriculums to help families create a better line of communication. In addition to my corporate models to help reduce the loss of potential earnings, I build empowerment programs to assist people in the workplace and help them to navigate away from overly emotional thinking.
Plus, I still have this trick of mine, which I have been working to perfect and pull off someday.
I hope you’ll be there to see it. I really do.
There is so much more I want to tell you and more that I want to share. I want you to know about the box I keep of pictures of my family that date back to before I was born.
I want to share this with you because I want you to know those guys in the rehab and the people that said I’d never make it or be found dead, left in a ditch somewhere, or cuffed to a life of addiction—they were wrong about me. And to be honest, for a long, long time, so was I
This is not the end, folks.
No . . .
This is only the beginning,