Keep in mind, this was decades ago. We were closing in on springtime. I had found myself doubtful of everything. I was unsure who was true with this process and who was unwholesome. Yet meanwhile, I was in too deep. I was part of a process that I never signed up for. Months into my stay on a farm, I was in a therapeutic community, cleaned up and short-haired like a good boy. I had surrendered to a process that was unnatural to me and given into the rules and regulations of the farmhouse and its principles.
I admit it. I was a follower. I drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak, which means I did what I was told.
If I were told to say something, I said it. If I was told to do something I did it. I had become “One of them” in a way that I never thought was possible; however, in fairness, had I not made this change or fallen in line, I would have been remanded into custody. Had I not gone along, then I would have had to find a way to get along and complete the rest of my time with the department of corrections. After all the arguing and trouble; after trying to run and find a way out if this; I was told that it was time for me to become honest. I was told a change was in order; otherwise, my life was on the line.And there was no arguing this fact.
I had no idea which way to turn, so I gave in. But somehow, I found out that the people I believed in most were secretly dishonest. They were lying about the way they lived. Meanwhile,they were telling me what to do.
It turned out the people I admired most were actually no different from me. They were scammers just like me. They told lies too. They had their own agenda.
I was a wannabe at the time, a low-level scammer and thief with a legal jacket that marked the end of my teenage life. I had been placed on the farm in a plea bargain in which I was remanded here, into treatment until the completion of program. Otherwise, it was jail which was not where I wanted to be.
In all honesty, I hated this idea. I hated the idea that this had to be me. Other people my age were exploring their youth, driving around in cars, getting ready for college, going to prom and graduating, and me, I was on a farm, slinging pig shit from a pigpen.
People my age were living and me, I was on my hands and knees, cleaning floors with a little cloth.
I admit it; I hated this place. I rebelled. I tried to fight back but the fight always led to punishment. They sat me in corners or told to wear signs around my neck. I was yelled at, sanctioned, and put on kitchen details or cleaning details.
Eventually though, I gave in. I was tired of fighting back but moreover, I gave in because I started to see a benefit in what I was doing.
I was clear headed for the first time in my life. I could speak clearly and did not use the word, “Man,” in every other word in my sentences. I no longer sounded like some burnt out hippie, fried from the chemicals that killed off my brain cells.
I admit it; I drank the Kool-Aid. I was “One of them” so to speak, which was not a bad thing to be. I did as I was told, when I was told.
One day, I found out some of the people I had admired so greatly and followed so loyally were secretly going against everything they told me to do. And sadly, some of them went back to their old way —or, perhaps one could say they never really changed; they only pretended to.
I remember the feeling of betrayal. I believed in them, wholeheartedly, and I looked upon them with such admiration. They were my source of inspiration. In retrospect, a majority of my change was made to please them. I wanted to be a part of something.
I wanted to be like them. I wanted to react like them and be able to handle my personal business the way they did.
To me, these men showed me how to endure. I did everything they said, and if told to, I would have done anything on their behalf. My loyalty was so strong that if any of them had asked me to take arms; I would have. This is how much they meant to me
Before entering my time in a treatment program, I pretended to be the great “I am,” but meanwhile, deep down I believed myself to be the poor, “I am not.”
I looked upon these people as a source of hope.
How dare they let me down!
How dare they give me hope, only to find that they are just like me, —that they are human, just like me, and dealing with the same human problems as me? Where was my hope to be now?
I believed in all I was taught. I believed that so long as I maintained the lessons I was taught, I could handle anything and surpass the limitations of my old, default settings.
It was springtime and summer was on the way. Some of the senior people on the farm had left and returned back to the real world. And I missed them dearly.
Reports came back with sad news that the lessons they learned didn’t take. It was reiterated and apparent to me that diligence is as important as the breath in our lungs. In fairness; this was frightening to me because what happens if I slip? What happens if I lose my sense of self-discipline? What do I do if I lose my way and find myself back in a crack house somewhere, creeping back to the heroin gods because I forgot how to apply the lessons I learned? More accurately, what do I do when life shows up with a bouquet of disappointments? How do I handle life then?
I was given this program in which I could use a step by step model to save my own life. This is something i had to do this on a daily basis, which sounded tiring to me, especially in the beginning.
How does one be so diligent every day and not get tired or give in?
I was afraid. I was intimidated and saw my new life as a chore. This is why I was so disappointed when I saw people that I believed in were really no different from me.
They had their own hang-ups and their own irremovable demons and voices of insecurity. Same as me, they could not get away from themselves. But why?
How could they appear so strong and yet, in a moment of weakness, they go right back to the poison that brought them to treatment in the first place?
Was this the way it was for everyone?
Is there really no such thing as hope when it comes to this kind of dependency?
Keep in mind, the farm was a long-term treatment facility. I could understand the unsuccessful mishaps of short-term, 28 or 30 day programs.
But this was long-term.
The people I admired most were there the longest. Some of them were there for years. I couldn’t understand this.
How could this happen to someone like them —and more to the point, if this happened to someone like them, how in the hell could I ever expect to make it home, successfully, and not go back to my old routine?
I had seen people that were good at this sobriety thing. And what I mean is they helped others. They were loved and admired.They appeared to know this life and out of anyone, no one expected they would be the ones to go back to their old ways.
I have met counselors with over 20 years of working an abstinence based program, and yet somehow, they lost their way and went back to the poison that almost killed them long ago.
I couldn’t figure this out. They were free. They didn’t have the monkey on their back anymore (or did they?)
How does someone build themselves up to such a beautiful level, only to return to the ugliness of being locked in a room, hidden away with a bottle or a pipe, or worse; how does someone that beat the physical sickness of withdrawals and the personal degradation of heroin regain a semblance of personal composure; only to find themselves compromised with a needle piercing their vein and the plunger pushed forward?
If they suffered this kind of fate, what would this mean for me? If the people I admired most went out this way, how could I make it if they couldn’t?
I had no faith in myself and all the faith in them, and yet, they fell from the pedestal I placed them on. To me, this was more than just heartbreaking.
In one conversation with someone I chose to call a mentor, I had asked him how this happened. He spoke honestly to me.
He told me how he fell and where he lost himself. He could hear the emotion in my voice. He had told me this is why he stopped talking to me because he believed as though he was not allowed to be human.
“I’ve got my own shit too, ya know?”
Then he looked at me, somewhat hurt and partly angry. He was partly resentful that I asked him “What happened?” and partly hurt that he was back in this condition and back in a humble position.
He folded his eyebrows downward with a sneer of disdain; partly because he was hurt and somewhat because he knew what he had done.
He knew there was no one else at fault and this was no one else’s choice but his own. As I sat to my friend’s side. he looked at me from the corner of his eye. His blue eyes, watery and almost demon-like.
“I never asked you to put me up on a pedestal.”
He told me, “You did that your own damned self.”
Then he said, “I sure as hell never asked for it!”
Teary-eyed, I apologized for the burden. I explained, “You were my hope that this was going to work for me.”
“I saw you as a source of inspiration.”
The coat of contempt was still on my friend’s tongue.
“Yeah well, now you know I’m just as fucked up as everybody else!”
He told me, “Now go find someone else to idolize!”
It was then that I understood a bit more about my friend.
He was only human. And so was I.
We tend to forget this about our mentors.
I was young and he was like an older brother to me. But in cases like this, the question remained, does causation equal correlation? In which, I mean if he fails does this mean I would fail too?
In the case of recovery and relapse, I have found that nothing is a linear process. I found that in my cases of slips and mistakes, the problem was not my intellectual understanding of what I should or shouldn’t do or when. However, and more importantly, in all my slips and with all my detrimental mistakes, I learned that inspiration is not positive or negative but just a motivating force. Inspiration can be found anywhere; it just needs the proper application and direction to be beneficial. Therefore, the application is not always the same, cookie-cutter answer. We are not rigid beings. Instead, adaptability is our best and primary asset.
As I write my first entry into this new journal and review my past affairs, I am 10 days away from my 29th anniversary of being clean and sober. The hardest part of living this way was not just the addition of one day at a time but more painfully; I had to endure the loss of some of my good friends and best sources of inspiration throughout the last three decades.
I have had my own falls from grace. Perhaps not chemically but more behaviorally. I have found myself in situations in which I allowed my head to swell. There were times when I was consumed with a certain sense of inaccurate importance.
Similar to my friend that went back and never straightened up again, there were times when I found myself in a place that I was unable to speak openly about myself. I placed my self-care in lower priority, in which I unfortunately acted out in ways that are against my best possible nature.
I never asked to be put on a pedestal but in all my humility, I admit that it felt good to be regarded. It felt good to be “Cool” and admired.
However, the saying is true. Pride does come before the fall. And when you’re down, sometimes the humiliation can be enough to make it so you never try to climb up again. Fortunately, the falls never paralyzed me to the point where I failed to get back up.
I’ve been down before. I’ve been shamed and shamed by my own behavior. I have made lists and lists of mistakes and sure, I have sins.
I have a closetful of skeletons. And maybe I have more than one closetful. But do you know what this makes me?
This makes me human?
This means I can give myself a break and take the pressure off the need for perfection.
With regards to the ideas of recovery, in whichever way this appears to someone’s personal life; whether we are recovering from an abuse disorder or something personal like a behavioral change, relapse is not a problem with the process; it’s a problem with the application.
And that’s what this is all about.
How do we apply what we learn so we don’t lose our way?
The question is pretty simple.
The answer: Not so much.
The stories I share with you are true. However, the stories that I will share with you in the upcoming pages are not mine. These are the lessons I learned from the stories my friends.
They are the source of my inspiration.