As parents, we have hopes and dreams. We have ideas of what we want our children to become. We wrap them in their little blankets and we tell them bedtime stories. We hope, and we pray to keep them safe.
We teach them all they need to know to the best of our ability. We teach them their A B C’s, the 1 2 3’s, and all about the itsy bitsy spider and the wheels on the bus that go ‘round and ‘round.
No parent looks down at their newborn and hopes they’ll be in trouble. No parent wants to have phone calls in the middle of the night from the police department. No parent asks for their child to turn to drugs and/or alcohol, and certainly no parent asks to stay up all night, worrying because their child did not come home.
As parents, our job is to teach and protect. Our job is to direct our children. We show them the difference between right and wrong. We teach them how to be, how to talk, to say things like “Please,” and “Thank you.”
We tell our children to be honest, to be good, and to always call if there’s a problem —we tell them to call, no questions asked, which we all know is never really true because although parents say, “No questions asked,” it is nearly always inevitable that there will always questions asked.
The same fact goes for the ever famous line, “If you tell me the truth then you won’t get in trouble.”
I fell for that line once too.
My Mother used to ask me where she went wrong. The Old Man was different. He was never very good at expressing his emotions. He never yelled when he was extremely angry. Instead, he would ignore me. He wouldn’t say a word, which was worse sometimes.
There were times he was so quiet, I almost rather he’d hit me—at least this way, I would know I existed to him.
Eventually the hurt gave way. He used to ask me, “What the hell were you thinking?” and then he’d shake his head because he couldn’t figure out what happened to me and why.
“We didn’t raise you to be this way!”
And they didn’t . . .
There was one time, I remember, The Old Man was so hurt and so beaten. He told me that there were times he wished that I would die already because if I died, at least this way he could heal.
He told me there was nothing worse than watching me kill myself. He hated the way I used to mope around.
He couldn’t stand the way I talked because the way I spoke was part of a chemical reaction —I sounded as if I burned all of my brain cells. And he just wanted to know why.
“You’re destroying yourself, kid!”
My parents wondered why I used drugs. They wanted to know why I was depressed. They wanted to know why I never asked them for help. They wanted to know why I hated myself so much and why I ruined my life. Why did I feel the need to euthanize me, one day at a time—and daring to be honest, deep down, they wanted to know why I hurt them so much.
Why did I reject them?
Didn’t I know how important I was? Didn’t I know the potential I have? Didn’t I know I could ask them for help or talk to them at any given moment? Because if I knew any of the above, then why did I do the things I did?
Didn’t I know how much they loved me?
The truth is I did know but in the case of love and mental illness and addiction; love does not conquer all.
Somehow, I am someone that survived himself. I survived self-harm and quite literally I survived self-inflicted tragedies that without any reasonable explanation, for some reason, I am still here.
I am not sure why I made it and others did not. In fact, I had a conversation with an old friend about this once.
I picked him up at Port Authority, a little more than 5 years ago. He had just taken a bus ride to NYC from Florida with hardly any money in his pocket and nothing else but Dilaudid to help keep him on the bus.
I picked him up and then drove back to our old hometown. I will say his name is Tommy.
Tommy planned to stay at a friend’s house, which was his original plan; however, I had a different plan for him.
Tommy and I went to the diner in Hempstead, across from the Home Depot. We sat and we talked. We laughed and we reminisced.
He was still Tommy but there was a glaze over his eyes that robbed him of his usual charisma. And then Tommy opened up.
He told me he hated me for a long time. He said he blamed me for a long time. He told me that he couldn’t understand.
“How come you were the one that made it?”
He asked me, “Why you?”
“You should have died first.”
We talked about the epidemic. We talked about the drugs. Then we talked about the way it is and why people never kick (or get clean).
Tommy was always a good kid. Everyone loved him —except for himself. He had every advantage. He was good looking. He had friends. Girls loved him, and the guys always invited him to hang around.
He was funny, crazy, charismatic, and there he was, Tommy, sitting across from me at a diner, decades after I taught him how to cook up batches of freebase. And me, I got away clean.
That’s what Tommy said to me. “Why were you the one that got away clean?”
Meanwhile, the number Tommy kept calling never picked up the phone. He kept calling someone for a place to stay. No one answered his calls, which meant Tommy had no place to go. Tommy came back home so he could hide. He said he wanted help. I wanted to help him, which is why I helped him the only way I knew how.
After the meal, I asked Tommy to take a little run with me. He thought we were going someplace exciting. But no, I drove up to the emergency room at the hospital down the street and told him, “Get the fuck out!”
And then I urged Tommy into detox, which he went.
Tommy passed away five years ago around this time. I watched his family grieve. I said my goodbyes. This hurt me.
I’ve sat at wakes for my friends. The closed caskets were the worst ones. I listened to parents detail the loss of their child. And I always wish I could explain something —see, what happened had nothing to do with them. What happened to me had nothing to do with the love I was given or the lessons I learned.
I had this thing in me, which was like a voice, always whispering, always telling me something different, always making me uncomfortable, scared, always causing me to second guess myself, and always leading me to think that happiness was nothing more than a fleeting thing, and the rest is just this. The rest is just depression. The rest is just insanity and insecurity.
The rest is just the thoughts in my head, which I could never tell anyone about. I had shame and I had regret.
I had this unbelievable and undeniable sense of internal rejection. I never felt as though I fit. I never had the courage to try and be myself, nor was I comfortable with talking about this with anyone.
I saw myself as flawed. This was not because my parents did not love me or did not support me. I believed these things because I had something about me that always left me feeling just a bit off-center. I could never “Get right.”
I could have died more times than I can remember. And there were times when I wished I would have died.
In fact, I remember a time when I was a little kid. I mean real little, maybe like 8 or 9. There was a stranger that tried to lead me away into the bushes across the street from my house. I was fortunately not alone. I was with my friend Mike. He was smart enough to say “Stranger danger,” and then we ran off.
The man asked us to help him find his wallet. He said, “I lost it over here in the bushes.” He told us this in a big vacant lot across from my home, which was like a playground for us back then. We built forts there and clubhouses. We even dug for buried treasure there.
There were times that I wondered what would have happened if I were alone. I wondered if he would have killed me —and I recall times when I thought about this and a piece of me wished it happened; then I wouldn’t have had to kill myself on a daily basis.
(By the way, I have written about almost everything up to this date; however, I have never written about this event nor can I think of anyone I have told this story to. Either way, I have to be honest, it feels good to get this out.)
Mom used to ask me why I was so angry. The Old Man died when I was young, so he hardly even knew me.
I was 17 and in rehab when The Old Man passed. I have this memory of me, shoveling dirt on his coffin at the funeral. And I can still hear the sound of the dirt as it fell upon The Old Man’s wooden box. The echo is unforgettable.
None of this was fair to me. Nothing ever seemed fair to me. Nothing ever seemed to work. This had nothing to do with Mom or The Old Man. This had to do with the deception of my perception. This had to do with my misinterpretation of everything around me.
Nobody would have been able to explain anything to me. No one would have been able to stop me from killing myself. No one could have helped me. I had this thing in me. I had this demon in me, I was cursed, or so I thought.
I was sick in the head is what I believed. And I say the word “Believed,” because I wholeheartedly believed that I was incapable of ever being better. No amount of cheerleading would have changed my mind.
No amount of success would have changed my mind either because at some point, I believed that failure and I would inevitably end up together. Lonesomeness understood me. Depression understood me, and neither would ever reject me.
And it’s not like I was never warned. It’s not like I didn’t know what happens to people that live certain lifestyles. Look at the AIDS epidemic —everyone knows how to protect themselves yet, no one thinks something like that will ever happen to them.
Information does not stop self-harm behaviors. But no one ever stops to ask the question, “Why?”
Mom used to say she always wished she could have done more.
I get that. I wished I could have done more too. I wish I could have done more for myself. I wish I could have done more to stop the things in my head from spinning around. And yet, here I am now. Technically, I am a specialist.
Instead, I call myself a realist.
I use reality in my tactics when coaching people though because pretending reality doesn’t happen is a lie.
Life happens. Life hurts. People leave. People die. Jobs go wrong. Money goes out and does not always come back in. We chase the wrong dreams. We help the wrong people —or better yet, we loved the wrong one and wish with all we have that we could just rewind to a time when we could call “Do-over!” and try this again a different way.
I have spoken at events where parents that lost their child to overdoses recounted their stories. I always explain, “I was no different,” and then I say, “I’m sorry.”
I have managed to survive myself for 47 years. I will be clean 29 years this coming April 1st. I have good times and bad. I have made something of myself. And currently, I am trying to carve my way into a new direction.
I do not compare myself to anyone. I am not saying I was the worst or the best. I’m just saying that I was that kid once. I was that man that thought the world would be better off without me. And the ideas come every once in a while. However, I have found freedom by not hiding these aspects of me. Instead, I give them a voice. I give them attention. I give them the outlet they need so that the old ideas will never take hold of me again.
I cannot explain why people die this way. I cannot say there is anything more unnatural than a parent burying their child. I can only explain some of the emotion because intellectually, this is something we all understand; however, emotionally, we blame ourselves. We blame everything and everyone and meanwhile, we just want our loved ones back.
I’d like to do all that I can to stop that. See, you and me, we still have a race to run. We have a life to live and there are others out there that suffer —therefore from this point onward, I want to do all that I can so I never have to explain to another loved one or stranger why someone isn’t coming home anymore. From this point forward, I want to do all that I can so I never have to write another explanation like this again.
This is my pledge to help my community.
I hope you can see this. Tell Pop I’ve been working really hard. I’ve learned a few new tricks but don’t worry, one day, I will pull this off.
I just wish you were here to see this. I think you might be proud. At least I hope so….