This is how I see it. And I don’t say that I speak for everyone. Then again, I never wanted to speak for everyone. I only want to speak for myself. And here it comes, the holiday season is already here. Meanwhile, the rest of the world moves on to do its thing. Family and friends are living their life. Kids are growing and life is changing. The places we went to as kids are different now but then again, the entire world is different now. And meanwhile, all you see is the same rooms and the same people. The only people you talk to are the people in the groups or the counselors or the people that work at the facility you’re in.
Sometimes people from the outside come in but I am always tasked with the question, “Who are they really?” Why do they even come here? Is this because they have the burden of survivor’s guilt? Sometimes I wonder if people who come to places like this only do it to feel better about themselves. Or, maybe coming to “Help” someone else is more like virtue signaling than anything else. Maybe visiting us in places like this is something people do so they can feel better or sleep at night. Maybe they can tell their friends, “Look at the good things I do for other people!” Maybe this is more about them than say, people like us.
You get letters where you are now, which is good. This gives us something to do to pass the time or think about something else. And the letters mean a lot, they really do. The letters are a piece of sunlight from the outside world. They let you know that someone outside cares. And that’s good too, right? Plus, the letters are words to read that aren’t found on the standard institutionalized reading material and literature, which is what they give on “Day One”.
But to me, if I’m being honest, the letters cut me a little bit each time. They hurt because I knew there was life out there; only, I wasn’t out there to live it. I had the same sentiment about the phones. I loved hearing the voices of my family or friends but unfortunately the calls had to end. Then I’d go back to my routine and them, who knows what they did. Maybe they went outside. Or maybe they went in the kitchen and had a slice of pie. Who knows? All I knew is that I was away from all of this. And sure, it could have been worse. This could have been a lot worse but still, this doesn’t mean I didn’t miss out on anything.
A lot can change in a short amount of time. A lot can change in a day. Hell, if we think about this a lot can change in an hour or even a minute. Imagine what can transpire in a week or 30, 60 or 90 days later. I know a lot changed in 11 months. Including me.
And I’m not here to act as if I did hard time. No, that wasn’t me. I took the cake walk. I took the facility. I took the treatment over the jail time because there were no bars or guards, just counselors and groups and meetings after meetings. I took the line that was offered because as it was so cleverly stated to me, I was too light to fight and too thin to win.
Either way, being away is being away. And I think about this sometimes. I think about the people in groups right now. I think about people like us that go through struggles. Then I think about this time of year and what it feels like to know, no matter what, I’m not gonna be home for Christmas.
I used to write letters to some of my friends in prison. I’d try to write about things that would support them. I’d try to offer a brief window of an outside reality with hopes to reach them with care and respect. And I’d offer them my friendship when they came home. And sometimes they’d take it for a while. And sometimes they’d go back to their old life. Sometimes they’d go back to jail which, by the way, is also a strange addiction that no one ever talks about. Jail can be habitual. It’s not the Hyatt by any means at all but hey, it’s three hot’s and a cot. Know what I mean? My friendship is always constant but like I said, sometimes this was accepted and sometimes not. Sometimes they’d die, like Tommy or Joe or Rich and of course, the list could go on.
It’s strange to me though. The world is a crazy place. Everyone has their own agenda, which is nothing else but more of the same. I think people like to pose and look pretty. Come to think of it, there was a woman that worked in the same building as me. She was talking about what she does on Thanksgiving. She was talking about how she goes to the homeless shelter and helps feed the homeless. And it was the way she said the word “Homeless”, as if it were a scourge or a disease. She was very proud of her work.
This is what I mean when I say virtue signaling. . .
Then somehow, and I’m not sure why, the woman dragged me into the conversation. Somehow, her interpretation of me led her to believe that I don’t care about the homeless. She began to tell me what she knew about the homeless, which is why she goes to a shelter every year on Thanksgiving.
She told me, “You’re problem is you don’t know and you don’t care to know?”
She told me, “I go every year. What do you do?”
I asked her, “Every Thanksgiving?”
“That’s right,” she told me.
“What do you do for the rest of the year,” I asked.
It was clear that she was insulted. It was clear to her that someone like myself could not possibly understand. And I know this because she told me so. To which, I replied, “See, now that’s where you’re wrong. I go every week. I answer phone calls all goddamn day and night from people that live in shelters or in rehabs or just got out of jail. Not once a year. Every goddamn day!” She stood with this shocked expression on her face, horrified, as if I just revealed a big kitchen knife like a killer from a horror movie.
I admit it. I was angry at first. Then I wondered why bother? Why would I virtue signal back? Why be “That guy,” instead of being who I am, which is someone that struggles too. I am someone that has the so-called mental or emotional challenges too. I know what it feels like to be down and out. I also know what it feels like to have someone put their hand on your shoulder and say, “It’s okay. I got you, kid” and “We’ll get through this together.”
I know what it feels like to be alone or believe the world is against me. I know what it feels like to believe that all eyes in the room are looking at me as if I am a loser. I know what it feels like to believe there is something wrong with me. And maybe there is something “Wrong” with me. Maybe I don’t fit the bill. Maybe I can’t play the part and maybe I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But I do know this: I know there are more people like me than “Not” like me. I know that there are people out there that struggle too. There are people in this world that seem as if they have it all, and yet, no matter how much they have still, they think about hanging it up or shoving off by pushing a spike in their vein to end their life into quiet sadness of eternal twilight.
I know you are out there. And don’t worry. I know you wish you were someplace else. I know there are literally a thousand other places that you’d rather be, like say, maybe on the shore at Imperial Beach in San Diego during the sunset. I never saw a sunset like that before. Not in my entire life. I don’t know if I ever thought I would ever make it to where I was. I don’t know if I ever believed any of this would be me. All I know is if I had quit when I wanted to, none of this would be me and none of what I say would be said to you now. I’d have been gone, dead and buried.
I had friends (you know?). Guys like Mathias, like Mike, or like Hank, or Richie, my first sponsor or Kevin, John, Dominic, Quinn, or Elise, who taught me how to sleigh ride by using a garbage bag, or Tony or Betty or Father A, or Father Mike and Nick too (sometimes) and Ed and there were more people like this too. They were there for me. They were there to pick me up because I couldn’t stand on my own. They were there because I was too afraid. I was too weak. I was too angry and too close to my own destruction.
You want to know why I’m writing this to you?
Well, one could argue that I’m a bit too intense. And that’s okay. I’ve been told this before.
That being mentioned, there are several reasons why I’m writing to you.
I do this, partly because I hate bullies and yes, to me, mental health challenges are a bully. I do this because I know that somehow, there is peace in this for us; to come to peace with our past as well as ourselves. I do this because quite simply, I care. I actually care. And maybe this is a ramble. Maybe this is just a letter from a sober coach or a thought from a sober guy. Or maybe I’m no different from the bible thumpers I used to hate so much.
Or, more to the point, maybe I’m just a man. Maybe I’m just human. Maybe this is who I am and who I’m supposed to be. Maybe I do this because I have a heart and I’m not afraid to use it.
Or, maybe for the life of me, I would never want anyone to feel the way I felt or struggle the same way or want to die – literally – and so, the same as someone was there to give me some warmth when it was cold, I’d like to do the same thing too.
The holidays are coming.
It’s a hard time. But don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten you.
I’m right here.
Always will be too.