You lose touch after a while. The past is nothing more than the past and the old running buddies from the old stomping grounds are nothing more than part of your history. This took me a while to learn but I learned this, nonetheless. And for the record, I still remember. I’m sure you do too. I remember my old friends the same as I remember the stories that we shared together. I suppose what happens is we move on or in some cases, maybe we grow up. Either way, eventually, the past becomes old chapters that seem like stories, which happened in a different lifetime.
Although every bit of me can remember my last trip to a spot in Brooklyn, I seldom think about any of this. I don’t look back. I don’t think about the drugs or the rituals or the nightmares. I don’t think about the backseats of police cars or that “one phone call” home. I don’t think about the degrading times I found myself in desperate places or doing desperate things like crawling on the floor and looking for tiny white flakes of powder. I know you never liked hearing about this. And I know this hurt you but I’ve let go of the demons from my past. It’s all gone now; the thefts, the scams, and of course, the violence.
To be honest, I rarely think about any of this.
Why would I want to?
And just to be clear, the reason why I cleaned up and stayed clean is so that I would never have to think about any of this again. There was something that was lacking in my life, which was: A) some direction, B) some purpose, and lastly C) I never knew about the valuable things I had in my life. I had no idea about my abilities. I only knew where I fell short. I only saw my faults and flaws. Sure, I’ve heard from people who still talk about the old days. I’ve gone to 12-step meetings where people with decades of clean time gather around and still talk about the life they left behind as if it happened yesterday. Maybe this is fine for them but for me, the reason I cleaned up is to celebrate my new transition. I cleaned up because nothing about that life had anything in store for me. There was no purpose or empowerment. I was able to get out of trouble. The courts took their foot off my neck. My scars have faded and my heart has healed.
I don’t do war stories, nor do I find the topic of conversation particularly interesting. To me, this was a reflection of tragedy and depression. I was acting on behalf of my symptoms which nearly killed me more than once. This is part of my near-death experiences. This is part of my anguish and the history that I chose to leave behind.
I’ve worked too hard to move forward. Yet I can still say that I know where this began. I know all about the world behind me, and it’s gone. I know it’s gone, so long as I leave it there.
I know that at one point, it was me. I know the way I spoke and the way I looked. I know that my story does not always relate to others. However, I know that at my core I have an understanding of the mind, the way we think and the way we connect emotions to experience. The more I grow, the more I know that the person I was is different from the way I am now. Hence, this is why I don’t look back.
I know it’s out there and that yes, if I forget about my self-care it can be easy to backslide into old enemy territory. I know the beast has ways of pulling people back in. I know that the beast knows us more than we know ourselves. He speaks to me often, but I don’t listen.
And who’s the beast?
The beast is the internal bully. The beast is addiction. The beast is depression and trauma, anxiety, and all of that which looks to steal or destroy someone’s beauty.
I suppose this letter is a rant but at the same time, this letter is more than a rant. Maybe this is also a letter of apology because you were there. You had to see me that way. But don’t worry Mom, I’m doing really well. You’d be surprised at what I’ve seen.
I sat through a series of different classes with a mild to somewhat heavy case of intellectual anxiety. I was in a week-long class with people that owned titles and held high-ranking positions. They were clinicians and professionals and people whose names came with a bunch of letters at the end like LMSW or PHD (I never assumed I would ever build up my resume, but hey dig this, I am Ben Kimmel: CPLC, CRPA, CARC, CCH, NYCPS, CRC, CNT, MHFA-I . . . and the list is growing).
There was a group of us in a class that talked about ethics, and how to interact. They talked about how to behave as a specialist to someone who was brought back after an overdose. Everyone in the room was completely different. I can say that the room was diverse. I can say that I looked around and felt challenged by all who were sitting in the class with me. I can remember the “stay in your lane” mentality and the low-levelness of my position. In fact, during introductions, we went around the room so that everyone in the class could introduce themselves. Everyone had a title, except for me. They looked at me expecting to hear more about my credentials but to make them laugh, I told them, “Never mind me. I’m just here for the refreshments.”
All of this was to prepare me for deployment after a report of an overdose. I learned what to do and what to say. I learned how to fill out paperwork (which I hated). The class talked about different scenarios on emergency room visits and in fairness, out of all the scenarios we practiced, none of them were accurate to what happens in real life.
Here’s a scenario: the phone rings and public safety reaches out. They give a few details, like the name or the location, which hospital, the time of the call, whether the person responded to the medication, and whether the patient is male or female, and perhaps a date of birth. Nothing prepares you for the actual conversation or the possibility of a fatal overdose.
I have met with people who went through basic training in the army. They told me about their training but war was hell. And rest assured, the battles are different but this is still a war. None of this was natural for me. At least not the first time. The second time is easier. So was the third and the fourth. Then it became natural for me. My mind and body eventually knew which way to go. I eventually knew the emergency rooms. I knew the nurses, and they knew me as well.
I remember my first deployment— the client was a mother. She was a woman who found herself on the bad end of a pain management problem. In a matter of two years, she found herself dangling on the nod and caught in the web of the heroin gods. Just two years prior, she was a totally different person. I suppose no one ever thinks this could happen to them. Apparently, my client didn’t think so either. No one ever expects to turn a needle downwards in their vein and no one ever expects it to get “this bad.”
I remember the look on this woman’s face. Her eyes described an inhumane suffering. She was sickly and beaten. She wanted to rip out of her own skin. She wanted out in the worst way. I remember knowing the fact that she died and that due to the benefits of today’s medicine, the opiates were reversed and because of this, she was alive.
Now just to be clear, there is a series of paperwork and questions that need to be asked when deployed on calls like these. Yet, here was a woman who literally just died and was brought back to life. She was sick from withdrawals. She was lying on a gurney in the middle of a busy emergency room. Her last hurrah, so to speak, was not so good. She was found on the floor.
What do you say to someone like this?
How do you approach them?
Somehow, asking for the correct spelling of their name and if they have any health insurance doesn’t seem like the initial way to go.
My answer to the above questions were simple. I went off script. I decided to be myself and not a specialist. I decided to be human first before anything else. I remember my first time. I walked over to the woman and introduced myself. I told her that I am going to stay for a little bit, and that she and I were going to talk. She was open with me. She told me about her kids. She told me about what happened. She told me about her life and gratefully, nearly five years later, she is still very much alive and well.
I remember feeling helpless upon my arrival. I didn’t know what to do. She was uncomfortable and sick. I held her hair back when she vomited into the bedpan. In fairness, any other time in my life, this would have made me sick to my stomach. My job was the same as any other specialist. We were to offer a connection and promote the options for treatment. If agreed upon, we worked to get the client into treatment, through detox, and then we were to follow up with the client for up to six months after the overdose.
By the way, have you ever worked on a suicide hotline?
I guess my first call was the same as the first time I arrived as a recovery specialist.
You hear them on the phone, they’re at the end, they’re ready to jump. You’re taught what to do and what to say and yet, when you’re in there, you toss the script out the window because people know the scripts. They know who’s reading from a script and who speaks from the heart.
I received word that a 14 year-old leapt to his death near the Hudson Yards in New York City. I hear this and wonder if he would have done this if he knew he had a place to go or someone to speak to.
It’s hard, you know?
It’s hard to hear when someone gets caught by the beast, and the bully in them is what beats them to death.
I don’t know. . . I guess this is just me reaching out to you. I suppose this is me, ranting about what happens, and how the fight is getting away from us.
They call this mental illness.
I call it an avoidable loss.
I wanted to let you know that I recently received a new credential. This comes with 2,000 hours of clinical supervision and training. I’m on my way. I’m keeping my promise. Looks like a new class is starting somewhere around September. If all goes well, I’ll be a part of it.
Oh and hey Mom, I don’t know what it felt like for you to have to come see me in the emergency room. I just know that I’m sorry you had to see me like that. But like I said Mom, don’t worry. Your baby boy is doing his best to make you proud— at least, I hope so.
I miss you.
Love always. . .