There was a night in my young life when I turned left instead of right. Some of my friends went off in one direction and I chose the group that split off to the left. Simple, right?
This was the night I was picked up by law enforcement. This is when I lost to my decisions and no matter how I tried to run or manipulate the system; there was no getting away from this.
This is what led me to my biggest change. This is what led to the death of my former self. I was away for a long time.
One of the things that happen in cases like this is your name, reputation, and your social presence is suspended and placed on a shelf. Styles change, fashions change. and people change.
Life goes on around you. Life happens. People live. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a holding pattern. I was away and stuck in the consequences of my behaviors.
Meanwhile, the kids from the neighborhood grew up and did the normal rites of passage. And me, well; I was placed in different facilities until it was time for me to come home.
In the year I was gone, I met some of the most incredible people. These people were both influential and inspirational to me.
Some of them stayed the path and some of them found themselves back in their old routines. Some went to prison. some died. Some spent the years plugged up in a bottle, drinking their time away, and some just moved on, never to look back.
In the toughest times and when I was literally at the end of my rope, I remembered my old friends. I remembered the crazy times and I laugh sometimes, thinking about the way life is when stuck in a therapeutic community.
I remember my friend Mathias.
He was there for me when I wanted to “Hang it up,” as they say. He sat with me for a while and he wept with me.
Years later, I had come to find out the reason why Mathias knew what to say was because he felt the same; only, there was no one around to talk Mathias when he was at his worst. And sadly, Mathias died alone, in his apartment. I always wished i could have been there the same way he was there for me.
However, rather than tragic, I view this as a source of inspiration. I honor my fiend and mention him but I honor him more because Mathias was more than a tragic ending.
Mathias was more than this thing called depression. He was my friend. He was strong in ways that have helped me to learn to be strong for others. This man was brave enough to open himself up and talk to me, a person whom at the time; I swore that I needed to die because a happy life was not at all possible.
Mathias showed me this was not true
And then there was John—
John was there for me when The Old Man passed away. John taught me my most valuable lesson of all, which is sometimes there are no words.
I learned there are times when words are the most unnecessary thing; just be there, be present, just be you and don’t try and pretend to be anything else.
There are times when life deals us the worst hand. This is fact and no word in any language can change this fact.
He taught me that words don’t always mean a thing. But being there for someone means everything.
John was a brother to me. He was a mentor, a counselor, and a friend. I am grateful to still call him that to this day.
God Bless him. John, I mean.
There were others too. Like Mike, the Rocket. He was my friend. He was funny. Mike and I spent plenty of time, goofing around.
I looked up to Mike. He was someone I spent time in the trenches with.
He and I shared a common bond. He was with me during some of my crazy times. I’d like to think I was there for him too.
I didn’t learn the news until years later. Mike was found lifeless with a needle in his arm. I will always wish that I could have had the chance to speak with him, one last time before he died.
See, I knew him. I knew great things about Mike. I knew that Mike was probably one of the greatest people to have around. He was an excellent friend. Moreover, Mike was more than a stigma. He was more than an overdose. But more than anything, Mike was a good man.
I remember when I moved back home after my completion of treatment. It was strange. I remember walking back into my childhood home and my bedroom, which felt like returning to the scene of the crime.
Most of my friends were gone when I came back. Most were locked up or dealing with a sickness that was killing people in record numbers.
The difference between my left turn as opposed to my friends that chose to turn right on the night of my arrest, had pulled me away from the vacuum that sucked the life out of so many others.
I last saw my friend Dorian in a deli in our town. I hardly recognized Dorian because he had grown so much since the last time we saw one another. And yes, the last time I saw Dorian was a crazy time.
We were younger, high as could be, cackling in the deranged laughter that comes as a chemical reaction for two kids on several bags of angel dust.
Dorian knew about the drug life for reasons I will not disclose; however, I was very close with Dorian and his older brother.
Dorian approached me. He was happy to see me.
He told me, “I heard you got cleaned up.”
Dorian was cleaned up too, at least for the time being.
He went to a program. He shared a little of his story and I shared a little of mine. This was the last time we saw one another.
Unfortunately, Dorian passed away. And again, I say this was my friend. He was a great kid. Dorian had the best smile ever. He was funny. He was cool, or if anything, Dorian was always cool to me. And he always will be too.
Then there was Peter. Then there was Flo and the names kept piling on, year after year, story after story. There was Billy, Tommy, Joe, and more.
Some of the friends from my childhood were in comas. Some of them were in prison. Some of them went on the methadone line.
Some of the pretty became ugly. Some of the socially successful had fallen to the low level trenches. Some married poorly. Some chose poorly and had children and spent years trying to explain to their children why “Daddy won’t be home this Christmas.”
With all of this, I did not need any more proof that the way I lived was not the right life for me. I threw myself into a program that worked best for me.
I might not have been perfect, which, let’s face it; none of us are. But at least I wasn’t on heroin. At least I wasn’t on crack. I stayed away from the cocaine demons and kept my distance from the people that would lead me back to them.
This is not to say that I did not have my struggles. This is not to say that I was a “Good scout” by any means because I wasn’t. I found myself in trouble. I found myself in hard times. Admittedly, I found myself in arrested and in holding cells, awaiting the morning appearance before the judge, thinking to myself, “How the hell did I end up here again?”
I remember talking with Tommy on the phone before he died. He told me that he held resentments against me. He said he always wondered why I made it out.
“Why you,” he asked, to which I had no answer.
Besides, what answer would I have for him? I turned left that night and Tommy went to the right.
See, Tommy was there with me that night. It is true. I went one way with a group of people. Tommy went the other way. I was picked up and taken into custody and Tommy and few others got away.
But did they?
If you add up the prison years with that group and the years of suffering or the years they spent on methadone lines, it would seem to me that they did not get away with anything . . .
Nearly three decades later, I was doing an interview with someone that was just arrested. I was hired as a specialist to assist in a police initiative that steers people into treatment instead of leading them straight to jail and going back to more of the same.
I struck up a conversation with a young man to persuade him towards detox. We talked about “The Life” so to speak. This is not to say that I related to him on every level nor does this mean he related to me on any level.
However in the simplest way, we were two people, no stigma, no labels or titles. we were just two peers having a discussion about life.
The young man asked me if I ever missed any of my old friends.
I told him, “All the time.”
And I do.
I love my old friends. In fact, something I say often is there are no friends like old friends.
I say this because this is true.
I love my old friends. Some of them though, —I had to choose to love from a distance. Doesn’t mean I will ever forget them or not regard them. This just means I don’t want to watch another person I care about go down a tough road, which is why I chose to join this fight in the war against mental challenges.