It’s amazing what a little separation will do. Even more so is the amazing realization that comes when we see ourselves exactly as we are. And it was strange to see my bedroom. It was strange to think that I had only been gone for a little more than four months and already so much had changed.
The Old Man got older. He was laying up in a hospital bed with machines and tubes, all tied to his body. My life was about to change into the unknown. And there was a void; there was a strange space of emptiness. It was hard to believe that this was me. This is life and this is mortality. After my trip to the hospital, I went home to wash up and get some rest. But I couldn’t go into my bedroom. There was an overwhelming presence of energy. This was my room and this is where my secrets were hidden.
I stood in the doorway as if I was viewing the ghosts of a crime scene. The only difference about this scene is there were no outlines of bodies but I knew what happened here. I knew where my secrets were. I knew where my hiding spots were and of course; I knew about the crimes against myself, my family and the members of my community. I knew about the places where I woke up on the floor. I knew about the times when I’d be too far gone at night and I soiled myself or wet my pants.
Perhaps this was the first time that I saw the exact nature of my wrongs. I looked at the window at the garage side of my bedroom. I used to climb out of this window. I used to jump down and sneak out. There were times when the psychosis was real to me and I swore, “They’re out there.” The window on the side of my house was my escape route. Of course, this was when the cocaine bugs weaved through my brain.
There was the other window, which faced the street. I used to crawl up and peek through the blinds because again, I swore “They” were out there. And if you don’t know, then maybe you can’t know. You wouldn’t know about the fits of paranoia and the imaginary sounds that trigger the fright mechanisms.
The walls were always closing in on me. To be clear, all I wanted was to feel better. All I was looking for was that ultimate feeling. No pain. No thought. No pressing desires. Nothing. Nothing at all. It was just me in my need for something lofty and high, numb as numb could be, and exhilarating or euphoric and vast with no need for choices. Just high.
I saw myself from an outside view. I could see my memories as if they were playing on a movie screen inside of my head. I recalled the horrendous nose bleeds. I could see where I was in my room cooking up batches to be placed in glass pipes. I could see the paleness of my skin. Most of all; I could remember the horrifying reflection I’d see in the mirror.
My eyes were demonized. I knew who I was becoming yet there was nothing I could do about it. There was no way to stop me and to be clear, this is the price of admission. This is the price you pay. This is it. This is the cut from the blade; this is the pierce of the skin and the purge of the mental whispers that sound louder than any scream.
Death to me was less scary than pain and I knew about pain. I knew about this all too well.
I stood in the doorway of my bedroom as if I were a stranger. I thought about the first moment of awareness that came to me. I remember it.
I was caged in the holding cell. I remember a sense of relief because although I knew something bad was coming, I also knew that something was about to change. I knew they were going to take me away. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have to live like this anymore.
I remember sitting in a room full of terrible people, celled up with people who were capable of real violence but somehow, I felt safer than I did before.
Maybe there was help for me. However, above all things, I never thought it was the drugs per se. I never thought there was anything wrong with my drinking.
I just thought that I didn’t know how to live. Maybe I didn’t get the memo. Maybe there was something that I was supposed to know but instead, I turned inwards. Maybe this was all a joke and the laugh was on me. Who knew?
I found myself out in a world that would either swallow me whole or chew me up, just for fun. As I stood rethinking the ghosts of who I was, I recalled what I’d seen.
I saw gunshots. I had guns in my face. I’d seen the inside of squad cars and been part of a system that kills people and destroys families.
I was lost and mindless in a frenzy like a shark with blood in the water. I remember crawling on the floor, on my belly, looking for tiny pieces of poison to euthanize the demons in my head. Most of all, I chose a life that took away my choices. And this is what shook my head.
This is what shakes my head when I hear about people who talk about their history. It is alarming to me that people try to pass this off as cool. They talk about the war wounds and the glorified nights on drug binges. They talk about the highs that whisked them away.
But what about the losses? What about the truth of the unfillable hole? What about the reasons or the “Thing” behind the “Things” and what about the motivation that caused us to take steps closer to death? What about the need to die so we could feel alive? No one words it this way. They talk about the drugs and the culture but no one talks about their whys and where. Maybe it’s too daring. Maybe it just hurts. But me, this is my “Why” and these are the reasons why I had to get clean.
There was nothing cool about this. There was nothing “Gangster” about what I saw. I literally saw the way I degraded myself. I stood in the doorway of my bedroom and thought about the time my Old Man came in and tried to reach me. I thought about the loss of time, which was all due to a nod and the flood of opiates. I thought about the fact that time is absolutely irretrievable and that no matter how I tried, there was no way for me to recover my yesterdays. The were gone. My Father was about to die and there was nothing I could do about it. My childhood was gone and my innocence was lost a long time ago. There was no way for me to retrieve this.
I never had a high school experience. I never went to a prom or aside from my sixth grade graduation, I never walked with a cap or a gown or graduated anywhere in the public school system. I never went to driver’s education class. I never had the chance to drive into the parking lot of my high school with my first car.
Meanwhile, as I was stuck in my lifestyle and paying for my mistakes, the rest of the world carried on. Nobody cared to see where I was. No one wrote letters. No one even talked about me or said “Hey, I wonder where Ben is.”
Instead, I was simply a name that went on a shelf. I was anonymous and forgotten and working on a farm in some little upstate town. The rest of the world went on but me, I was hibernated in a state of social suspension.
There was nothing cool about this at all. And I tell you this but in the same sentence, I can say that I still understand the attraction. I understand the need to find safety and to be separated from a life that we cannot control. I understand the mechanics behind the drug use and the behaviors.
I get it.
I understand the confusion of terms and the need to settle the debates in our head. I get what it means to want to solve the pressure and cancel the troubles we think about. I understand the need to take a deep breath or an inhale and be like, “AHHHH,” and it’s all gone.
I took a trade. I tasted pieces of temporary redemption but therein lies the problem; it was only temporary.
The trade was nothing that could ever pay me an equal value. I was always in the hole. I was always looking to find that right spot – I wanted to feel untouchable and unbothered and whether I was noticed or unnoticeable; nothing mattered because at least I had found a button that could shut the world. Sure, I looked bad but I felt good; at least for a short while.
From the moment between liftoff and when I was at the zenith or the peak of my high, nothing else mattered. But none of this lasted very long. Then I was back. The high was gone and all that remained was my reality and the wreckage of my choices.
Next, the degradation came, which one would think would be enough to steer me away. But no. Insanity and compulsivity defies logic. The need to feel better (or high) became so great that the worse I felt, the harder I worked to regain that center in the sky. The shame only brought me back. Guilt only brought me back. Fear, regret, rejection; all of this brought me back to the feelings of despair. And despair loves to get high.
The only problem is after a while, addiction becomes work. Everything is a grind and the freedoms that I looked for became very costly.
Maybe this is what caused me to think differently. Maybe this was the first time I realized what I was doing. I saw the exact nature of who I was and how I had been. And now my Father was about to die. All of my hopes to regain our relationship and build a friendship between us were about to die as well.
There are times when we face changes that we don’t want to make. The question is how much more do we have to lose before the change takes control of us?
I couldn’t believe the view or me, myself and my old posture. I went from a young boy to a boy who shut down, to a child who struggled to read and understand things in school – then to a child who saw the fascination of a blade and how the corner of a razor can pierce flesh and somehow relieve the tension – and then I went to someone so lost and far gone that death was not a concern. If anything, death was only an unobjectionable but occupational hazard.
The Old Man never had the chance to see me the way I am now. He only saw a certain view. And here I am, decades later and talking to you about one of my many crime scenes.
My friend once asked me if I ever thought I would be straight with the house again and didn’t feel as if I had to pay back anymore.
I don’t know the answer to that.
I used to pay back for my sins because I thought I had to. Now I pay forward because I want to. And if something I can say or do will help; then so be it. If something about my past helps someone with their future, then so be it.
Back when I was in the doorway, I knew there wasn’t much time left. I knew the moment was fleeting and the window of opportunity to speak to The Old Man was about to shut.
Maybe this is the reason I don’t ever want to leave anything unsaid.
I don’t really speak about drugs or the culture anymore. I recognize my position as a person in recovery and I celebrate this as well. But for me, this is as far as I go when it comes to the depths of my use.
I’d rather use this time of year for reflection. These are my days of awe. This is me celebrating a change; but more, this is a message to the universe with hopes the mail gets to my Old Man.
I’m working on my trick, Pop.
I hope you can see it.
And by the way, maybe no one else cares about this but us. But hey, at least there’s us.
And so long as there is, I will always “Keep going.”