The day is December 24, 2021, Christmas Eve. The time and date is interesting to me. The weather interests me as well. We are currently seeing light snowfall, which will make this a white Christmas. It is shortly after 4:00am and according to my time zone, my side of the world is mainly sleeping. But not me. And not for bad reasons either. I am up because I have work to do. Plus, I’m up so that I could have my coffee and sit with you for a while. Know what I mean?
I think back to this day and this time of year in December of 1989. I think back to what my ideas would have been about the year 2021 or better yet, I think about the sound of the upcoming year, 2022, and what this would have sounded like to me when I was 17.
I was living on a farm in a town called Hancock, New York. I was a troubled kid. I remember this day. I remember the grayness in the sky, like a soft version of light charcoal mixed on a painter’s palette. The newly fallen snow piled high and of course, it was Christmas Eve. I was in a strange state of confusion, which began two-weeks prior to this day. This happened after a phone call from home. It seemed The Old Man had a heart attack. I invite you to think about the sound of these two words.
These are two words that make people human. These are two words that when put together can ever prove our mortality. I was too young to grasp the ideas of my future. At the same time, I was old enough to understand that life is life. I knew that people die. I knew that no one lives forever.
People die, which I understand, But people are humans. Moms and Dads are never seen this way. They’re not humans. They’re not real people. They are the entryway to our life. They are the true leaders, whether right or wrong, good or bad, our parents are the introduction to life. They did have a life before us. They’re not supposed to feel or have emotions. They’re life is supposed to be about us; and while I know there was a rift between The Old Man and myself – still, he was my Father. I wanted him to like me. I wanted him to love me and be proud. Plus, I never thought that heroes could die – least of all The Old Man. I had never seen him this way. He was humbled, human, and gray, like the shades of a man just before he leaves the world.
I was somehow pushed into a state of submission. There was no more fighting or arguing. No. I was in a state of disbelief and yet everything around me was surreal. This was my life. Everything seemed to move in different ways. I wasn’t interested in the same things. I wasn’t looking to run away anymore. The need to find the powders and the way around myself was not an option for me. I was faced with a new challenge now.
I was living on a farm that was designed to solve my problem. I was living at a place where they would help me with the mental and emotional dilemmas. This was a sentence remanded by the court and there I was. I was at a place to help me with something that caused a certain, self-destructive response disorder.
Self-Destructive Response Disorder (AKA Alcoholism/Addiction.)
That’s what I call this. No one else taught me this idea. This comes from me and from my decades of experience with mental health as it pertains to me.
This is what I call alcohol consumption to the point of total disrepair. This is what I call substance use to the point where nothing else matters. This is life when no one else matters, and whether I lived or died; whether someone else lived or died, nothing was real anymore. Life was only a transaction that consisted of tiny envelopes with huge drawbacks and enormous side effects.
Nothing else existed, except for my warm cocoon, which I called “The Nod,” and slowly, the world sank into vast persuasions of weightless breath. I was nothing and the world was nothing. You were nothing and my crimes against myself, my family or my community and otherwise meant nothing anymore. This was simply the price of admission. I paid the price to feel the warm switch engage in my blood. I suppose it was cheaper in the beginning. Then again, I suppose this is why the first hit is always free. This is when the angels turn and the wings on the demons aren’t so bad. Nothing is (until the ride’s over. That’s when the need begins).
I called this my self-destructive response disorder because this was me, responding to my faults and flaws. This was me, reacting to the programs and the codes in my mind.
This was me, reacting, responding, reaching out in silent screams that waved in the air like a flag as if to say, “Look at me! Can’t you see that I’m crazy?”
This was me saying, “I’m dying inside and nobody can help me!”
And I was dying, alright.
I was dying a euthanized death on a daily basis. But not anymore. No, I was on a farm. I was made to go straight. Although admittedly, I was not clean or straight by choice but I was clean nonetheless.
I did not like my choices. I did not want this life but it was either I get the farm or I surround myself in concrete and bars with guards and other inmates. As I saw it, either I fight to keep from being physically beaten in jail or I fight with counselors in rehab and tell them, “Shut up, Doc! You don’t know shit.”
Needless to say, I chose the farm but only because this was my most attractive choice, which in fairness was still the least attractive to me. I didn’t like my choices; therefore, I tried to make sure nobody else was happy with my choices either.
I remember when I arrived on the farm:
Where’s the smoking section?
Where’s the stoops or the brownstones?
Where’s the parks?
Where’s all of my comforts and usual routines?
And okay. I got it. I knew that I had to walk the line. I knew that I had a collar around my neck, which means that I had legal battles. I had the lifelong description as a person with a record and perhaps, had I not gone through what I’d gone through, maybe I’d have been nothing more than another person in the statistics column – I’d have been just another junkie or a habitual criminal, or maybe homeless, or maybe someone on the dangle. Maybe I’d be waiting for my substance at the clinic and nodding with my eyes half-closed or standing on the corner like a zombie. Maybe I’d have been every stigma that comes to mind. But I get it. I was “Lucky.”
Well, fuck that because “Luck” had nothing to do with where I am now.
No. I was away. I was saved in spite of myself. I was four months into an agreement, which was that I would undergo treatment for no less than one year and six months. I gained some weight. My jaw wasn’t clenched all the time and I no longer spoke as if I had a permanent high. I used to sound as if my brain cells were dying off like Kamikaze pilots, engulfed in the quiet explosions that come with speedball substances, glass pipes and the ever engulfing powder that inevitably kills the mind, destroys the spirit and, eventually, takes the body.
Nothing and no one could separate me from my ideas nor could anyone or anything change me from my response disorder. God, I was so young. I was so lost. I was so tired, sick, in pain and, admittedly, I was broken down to the lowest point. I was arrested. I had no friends. Besides, even the friends I had would rip me off all the time.
My family was ashamed of me after an article in the newspaper. I was the sick one. I was the one who put a strain on my household. And I remember this from a comment that came from The Old Man after a plea of desperation. He wanted me to stop killing myself. I had all of this in my head yet, here I was on the verge of a white Christmas. I was not in trouble. I was simply looking back at what happened. There was nothing pressing and no one was looking for me. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder. I was out of harm’s way but until this moment of reverie, I had no idea that life was real.
I was on a farm. I wasn’t sold on the ideas that I would never use a drug or drink again. None of that made sense to me. The idea of no drinking or substances was no different than the idea of December 24th without the mention of Christmas.
However, something changed.
Something clicked after I saw my Father in a hospital bed. He was old. He was not a superhero. He was aged and weak. And I couldn’t believe this. How could this be? How could someone who I saw as so strong or tremendous be reduced to an old weak man in a hospital bed, attached to machines that beeped with his heartbeat.
If I saw anything else in my life perhaps I never saw anything like this. I have never noticed or seen anything as life changing as this. It was Christmas Eve. I was on a farm with people who were like me. I was about to spend the day with my new “Fellowship.”
We had plans to play a game of dodgeball on the pond, which had frozen over. It was cold out. The scene was what you would imagine it would look like in an upstate, New York town. The farm was surrounded by tree covered mountains with snow-caked branches that crystallized in the silvery distance. Everything was decorated for the holidays, which I never had an attachment to.
The farm was a large plot of land, somewhat hilly with the downwards slope that opened up to a sea of distant mountaintops that folded in towards each other. I could see this beyond the cow pastures. It was day yet the moment was softly gray and dull, but calming and beautiful. The snow was deep and me, for the moment, I was like a kid again and about to play for a while.
This was the farm. There was a barn. There were animals. There were people like me, who found themselves in legal predicaments or deadlocked in family disputes.
No one was here by choice. At least, not me.
No, I was just here to beat jail. I was here to make a trade and hopefully, or eventually, I could find my way back and trade my clean time for a quick fix and be high again.
However; all of this changed because of two words: Heart Attack.
I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready for the changes that were coming my way. I certainly wasn’t ready to give up my uniform or let go of the battles in my head.
I was right and you were wrong. I hated everyone and everything perfectly. I had to because this was how I could protect myself.
Plus, there was no way that someone like me could ever be successful at anything aside from breaking and entering or fulfilling my self-destructive prophecy.
I remember my last days in public and private learning institutions. I remember the teachers who called me a bum, who said I was going to die (and they were going to laugh) and of course, I remember the guidance counselor who told me that perhaps I could find a career in ditch digging or truck driving or some kind of labor or building trade.
None of this is or was true yet I wholeheartedly believed this was true. I believed that me being as I was, at best, all I could ever be is a junkie. So why bother? All I could ever be was the beast people claimed me to be.
I never knew what I had. And what I mean was I never knew or understood about mental health or what mental illness is. At least, not really.
I never thought that I would be a working man. I never thought I would be someone who reached the age of 20, let alone make it this far to 49 and be facing the ideas of new business programs.
I have lived and died. I have fallen and risen up again. I have lived with myself for my entire life.
Do you know what that means?
I know what my self-destructive response disorders are. I know what mental health is and I know what mental illness is. And I’m not writing this for anyone’s fucking accolades. I’m not saying “Look at me!” No, I’m saying that I qualify for anything I choose to do in my life.
No, this is not a scenario of pride or signaling to the world. This is simply a tale that is only beginning. This is a personal expression that is said with all I have and with all of my heart: We need to prioritize mental illness. Not stigmatize it!
I will tell you more tomorrow.
Be prepared for the bus trip.
There’s snow on the ground now.
It’s Christmas Eve.
A piece of my heart remembers.
Another part of my heart rejoices but for now, I will settle with this –
I wish you could be there when I do my presentations.
I wish you could see their faces when I talk about us.
I wish you could see what our story does for others.
Maybe our history could help someone’s future.
I hope so . . .
Merry Christmas, Pop.
I hope to make you proud.