Of course, I have a past . . .
We all do. I suppose the trick is to identify this instead of this identify me because at one point, I believed that my past is what defined me. I believed that my past is what connected me to a stigma that would never allow me to move beyond my old identity. I believed that I was held to a standard which was no longer applicable. At best, I believed that I was a person of my circumstances. I believed that I could only go as far as the labels that described me and as I saw it, even being termed as a person “In recovery” was a limiting idea that held me back from reaching my best potential.
At best, I could only be learning disabled. I could only be a person with a past. At best, I could only be the sum of what I was labeled as, which in my mind, was weaker and less than the normal population.
I never went to my high school reunion. Then again, I never graduated from high school the way other people did. I never wore the cap and gown. I never attended an actual high school the same way other people did. At least not in the traditional sense. No, to be clear, it was not until I was in my mid-twenties that I earned my high school diploma; and, in full disclosure, I allowed this to define me for a very long time.
Come to think of it:
I was told about a makeshift high school reunion that was organized by some people from the neighborhood. I was invited and, of course, one of the old bullies had a quick little joke about me. I took the joke in stride and said, “I guess some things never change.”
And maybe they don’t. At least for some people.
Maybe this was just tongue and cheek (or whatever that means). Or, maybe this particular circumstance was overrun by my old sensitivities and distorted by old insecurities that belong to a young school boy. Meanwhile, who I was back then is not the same as who I am today. I am certainly not small anymore. I am absolutely not afraid of people anymore and I am definitely not one to allow intimidation to keep me silent. At least not anymore. My past is my past. Therefore, I never went to a prom. I never had a driver’s education class. No, at that age, my time was spent elsewhere. I was on a different trip and living elsewhere for reasons that are not pertinent for this particular entry. Thus, at best, I swore that I could only be the sum of this.
If you had asked me back then where do you think you’ll be in 30 years, my young mind wouldn’t have been able to conceive life that went this long. I would have never chosen what I’ve become. I doubt that I would have pictured my life now as me being an adult.
If asked who I think I’ll keep in touch with, I’d have selected a limited few. I certainly doubt that I would have believed I’d be regarded by anyone as a person with honor. Perhaps I would have cancelled the idea of a future me because no one can surpass their own opinion of themselves. Therefore, since this is true, then at best, I suppose that I would be somewhere in a ditch or institutionalized. But none of this is true; of course, I am neither dead nor institutionalized.
If anyone were to find me and say, “Someday, you’re going to be standing in front of law enforcement and giving lectures,” I would have laughed.
If you told me that one day, I would be doing college lectures, I’d have probably asked you if you were doing more drugs than I was.
See, what I mean about only being as capable as we believe?
I know that who we were in our past can leave an imprint on our memory. I also know that memory is inaccurate and often a liar.
Memory is distorted by time, emotion, and of course, memory can change due to the deception of our perception.
Our memory is shaded by color. We can either be the hero, the villain, the victim or the shamed. However, this is all a distorted concept which is based on the way we think and feel about ourselves. This means memories can easily be dramatized, glorified or vilified. In fact, sometimes our memories are furthest from the truth.
For example, I saw an old friend of mine for a random meet-up. We were somewhere near 54th Street a few years back. We were laughing about some of the old memories and telling some of the old war stories about the glory days. (Sleep well, Chris.) We were friends and hung around the same spots and buddied around with the same people; but, I never knew what he really thought about me. I don’t think I knew if what he thought was good or bad either. I just knew that we were part of the same pack and that we both spilled a little blood in the same places.
My friend told me about a memory he had from the old days in the park. We were running for one reason or another. He told me about something I did, which was not necessarily true. However, this was his version of the story. Romanticized and glorified as ever. But was it accurate? To this I would say hardly.
I remember this in a highly different version. My version was certainly less heroic and more frightened than rebellious. I know that at the time, I was at the starting point of my sickness which meant that I was “Holding.”
For those who don’t know, “Holding” is another word for carrying an illegal substance, which I had plenty of. My friend’s recollection is that I leapt over a fence with the police behind us. He said that I consumed the entire contents in my pocket in a flash. The idea was to get rid of the evidence, which I highly doubt the story happened the way he remembered. If this were true, I would either be physically dead or brain dead and mindlessly licking the walls inside of a mental institution somewhere, drooling on myself and being fed like an infant in a diaper or eating through a tube.
Or, there was a time that I was talking to a girl at one of the night spots in my old town. I was cleaned up and sober for a long time. My social life had changed but admittedly, there were still some old intimidations whenever I found myself around people from my past. There was a girl who I tried to speak with but shortly after, I found myself in competition with someone else. He was a person from the neighborhood. As I saw it, he was someone from the more intimidating and popular crowd. He was someone that sat on the opposite side of the cafeteria from me when we were kids in junior high school. He was one of the heroes and as I saw it, I was one of the zeroes.
I offered the girl my phone number, which she took with a smile. I left and then threw this up to the wind as something that probably wouldn’t happen.
And why would it happen?
Why would she pick me over Mr. Popular?
He was better than me, right?
He was better looking, cooler and he had more of a social glare than me.
Here are some facts of the case – rather than play this game as “May the best man win” this so-called man took to slander. He told the girl some of the old rumors about me. He told this girl, “Why would you want to call a guy like him?” Then he unleashed about the person I was, he called me a junkie, a hoodlum, a criminal and all that could be listed.
Meanwhile, he said this while reeking of liquor.
I know this because the girl we competed for called me the very next day. She told me that I was nice. Said that I had more class than the other “Bum” and then she told me what he said, which was information that she would never know, unless someone told her.
At one point, I would have allowed this to intimidate me. At one point, this would have infuriated me. At one point, this would have more accurately been something that limited me. But not anymore. This all stopped the day I allowed me to surpass myself. This stopped the day I allowed myself to become something more than a label from my past.
I think one of my finest rewards is when someone from the old neighborhood reached out to me and asked me to speak with their child.
Keep in mind, at one point in our lives, this person would sooner spit at me than say “Hello.”
I think the best part about this is I never made that connection between us. I didn’t go to the versions of better or worse.
I didn’t think about the distinctions of our relationship and how my past used to be the stigma that defined me. Instead, I thought about the present. I was stuck in the here and now rather than the “There and then.”
Here’s where I’m going with this:
I was listening to someone tell me about a girlfriend. They were together since before his change. She was a drinker. He was one too but after a major downfall, he decided to find his place in recovery.
He told me about the way she talked to him. He told me that she was abusive and controlling.
I worked on this with him and together, we thought this through.
He told me, “She can’t talk to me this way.”
“I don’t deserve to be spoken to like this!”
I told him the interesting part is she probably speaks the same as she always has.
I told him the difference now is the way you feel about yourself.
One of the greatest lines I was taught in order to not personalize something that does not belong to me is:
If it doesn’t apply, then let it fly.
As for my high school reunion or at least the makeshift one, I didn’t go.
But to be clear, nobody did. The Covid virus shut everything down.
Would I have gone?
This is something that would have been very important to the old me.
But the new Ben has other things to think about.
Know what I mean?