There are different phrases for when someone “Goes away,” to dry out or clean up. One phrase that I hear is, “He went to the farm,” which is interesting to me because in my case, I was literally on a farm for 11 months. But I get it. There will always be slang terms. There will always be an attachment to opinions and connections to stigma. I understand that anonymity is not always anonymous and that people talk to keep the rumor factories alive.
To be clear, I was in three different treatment facilities. I was in two of them twice. And I say this without shame. I offer this without regret and openly identify myself as a person who needed help. But this is more about people and our relationships than it is about rehabs and recovery. This is more about the connections we make and the people we meet. This is about what people share with each other when it seems like the entire world is about to fall apart.
That’s what this is about.
There is something about the bond between people who go through experiences together. There were tough times that I remember, like the ones where I swore I couldn’t go on this way. I was in trouble and I mean the worst kind. I couldn’t get away from myself. Besides, everywhere I’d go, there I was, all the time.
I was unsure about this thing we call life. I was tired.
Yes, that’s it.
I was tired of the strange, ongoing sense of disconnectedness between myself and the people in my life. I knew there was love for me. I had advantages. I had people who cared for me. But I was uncomfortable. I was never able to find balance, at least not for a long period of time. There was always something missing in me.
There was something I couldn’t explain. I was always different or at least it seemed this way. I was alone in crowds and uncomfortable. I was always “ON,” always performing and always acting “As if” to try and seem like I was cool. But no. I wasn’t cool. Nothing was fine and nothing felt safe to me. The only way I knew how to make myself comfortable was to drink or find a substance that allowed me to find comfort. I wanted to find a moment or place where I could be at ease and life could be unobjectionable. I wanted to find comfort in my distance and peace in my difference. I used to call this my little cocoon. And I’d climb in, all warm and protected.
This had nothing to do with my parents. This had nothing to do with my family or love or whether we were wealthy or poor. My attachment to feelings and experience was not because I am (or was) a product of my environment. In fact, I reject this motto because I have met with people who by all rights have come from deep inside the belly of poverty and adversity; but through it all, they have become truly successful and happy. I have witnessed people overcome unthinkable odds and for whatever the reason might be; I was lucky enough to know them.
This is what the book is about.
In my case, my challenges were a problem with my chemistry. Not my family. Not my environment. Not my personality or my character. This has nothing to do with the concepts or misperceptions of mental health. This is what baffles me. This is something people never seem to recognize when we talk about mental health or emotional challenges.
No one chooses to feel uncomfortable. No one walks through the aisles of life and picks depression like they would from the shelf in a supermarket. No one shops for the better brands of anxiety or insecurity. No one chooses the store brand of abuse or heartbreak.
And for me, my challenge was trying to find the perfect remedy. I wanted to find something that could settle the internal disputes. This is what led me to treatment. This is why I “Went away” or found myself “On the farm,” so-to-speak. It was here that I both lived and died and found myself both burdened and blessed with my personal rebirth.
There was a connection for me here. There were people I met who came from different parts of the country. We spoke differently and we lived differently. There were people here with all skin colors, races, religious beliefs, backgrounds and people with different sexual orientations and personal identities; and yet, with all of our differences— there was an amazing commonality between us.
We were all human.
The friends I made during my time in treatment were unlike any other friendships in my life. It is true to say that I have had little to no interaction with the people from my time in treatment. However, it is equally true that if I were to see any of them, I would embrace them as family. I would feel the old feelings and understand the common bond of what we went through. Even if they didn’t feel it the same way, I know how I would feel.
One of the first stigmas that I would like to dismantle is that treatment is this desperate place with desperate people who lived desperate lives. I would like to rid the catastrophes and the hoodlum-lifestyles or the supposed suggestion that this is a problem that only belongs to the uneducated or the less-fortunate.
I want to be very clear that within us all; whether wealthy or poor or anything under the rainbow, I have met some of the most incredible and talented people in places of recovery. I have met people who at one point were dangerous, but beneath them was a truly amazing heart. I have seen what mental illness does. I have seen the death faces and the vacantness in the eyes. I’ve witnessed that lost, soulless feature that overtakes the eyes, which used to be filled with charisma.
I have lived in places where we sat in groups and yes, desperate stories were told. And people endured this. They endured their life and the abuse and the neglect. They endured their surroundings and humbly showed their scars to a light, which I could only hope to be as brave as them. There were people who lived in wealthy homes but related and felt no differently from the person who found themselves on the street—begging for money on a flattened piece of cardboard and asking whomever they could for change just to get a bag.
I saw an old friend in Central Park. This was years ago, maybe 15 to be exact. We walked around and talked about our time in a place up in Kerhonkson, New York. This was a short-term rehab; also known as a “Thirty-day wonder,” which is to say that it only takes 30 days to get well after the damage that was done. But it’s not the 30 days. It’s what happens in those 30 days, It’s the connections. It’s the association with the information and the directions we take. It’s not the place or the counselors as it is a connection in the mind that allows us to change our belief system. This way, we believe that we can change and become someone else. This is nearly a religious conversion of some sort; but mostly, this is a personal conversion; one, which needs to be solidified and leashed on a daily basis. And dig it; not everyone gets it. Not everyone recovers. But not everyone fails either.
That’s what this book is about.
My old friend and I walked through the park and talked about the funny things that happened. We talked about the people we lived with. We talked about the counselors that we loved and the ones that we hated. We talked about the food and the decorations of an old hotel that was transformed into a rehabilitation center. We went through wars of our own. He went his way and I went mine; and it was only the randomness of fate that reconnected us for a moment.
To be clear about this; no one thought I would be around to tell my story.
My friend even mentioned that to me. “You were this scrawny little kid.”
“You had these beady little eyes that always made you look like you were up to something.”
Then he laughed, “You were just a kid!”
“I’m proud of you,” he told me.
“I know that’s a weird thing to say. But good for you, kid.”
They called me “The kid” because I was the youngest in the facility. There were some who liked me and some who didn’t. I was young and wild and anxious like a little dog that could never settle down or stop barking.
Please understand that although I surrendered to my challenges, I only surrendered to accept the fact that this is me and that to improve, I had to understand myself. I had to accept myself and learn more about my behaviors and my choices.
In order to change, I had to understand my beliefs to make this change possible. Otherwise, I would never believe there would be another way to live.
I never saw my friend again. He went his way and I went mine. I knew where he was off to. I knew that he was off to the Methadone clinic by 35th Street. We never talked about recovery or sobriety. But there was an endearing conversation, which was had by two friends who went through a special time together. I mention this because this is one of the people who saved my life. This is someone who stood behind me when I swore that I couldn’t take another step. But I did.
People swear that they’ll keep in touch.
We say this and we mean it but life steps in and somehow, people go on with their lives.
I think about people who I worked with and spent long hours with. We worked together, Monday through Friday. We shared meals together. We laughed and we bled and we sweat together. We swore we would always be in touch; again, we meant it at the time. However, life takes us in different directions. This doesn’t mean we weren’t friends or that we’re not friends now. This means we shared something together. This means we went through an experience that no one else would know or understand.
I have a lot of friends who fit this description, Some of them were met in the most tragic of places. Some of them were met behind caged doors and with supervised access. Still, with all of what they went through; I can say that these were some of the best people I ever met in my life. Without them, I don’t know if the catalyst for my change would have been as successful as it was.
My story both ended and began on April 1, 1991.
I have been both clean and sober since this date. I am not desperate by any means; least of all, I am nothing like the people at meetings that are depicted on television of people who find themselves in basements of churches, crying out to the 12-Step gods, struggling, reckless and dangerous to themselves.
I have used every resource possible to keep myself this way. And as for my friends, they were the biggest help of all:
to catch me when I was falling,
to pick me up when I was falling down,
to push me when otherwise, I wanted to quit.
That’s what this book is about.