Before I go on, I have to address the title of this entry. I say this because I have always wanted to be beautiful. I have always wanted to be wanted, to be included, invited and desired. Then again, I am all of this to some people. However, to myself, I struggled with this for years.
Who to be? How to act?
How to dress or what to wear?
These questions are bigger than we think.
Maybe it was the sixth grade. Or, maybe I remember this from a time in middle school when the curriculum called for a group of older teens to come into our classroom. The school brought in kids to speak to our class. No, wait. The first time was in the sixth grade. I’m sure of it. This was during the Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” era. So maybe this was somewhere around 1982 or 1983.
Of course, the message to say no to drugs was confused by stories of what, why’s and where’s that came from older kids who appeared more like rock-star gangsters than anything else. They were sent in to be a deterrent. But instead, this gave some of us ideas.
See, the attraction is real and often, the message to “say no” is confused by a series of needs and insecurities. For example, there are programs that allow for inmates from a nearby correctional facility to speak with students.
They wear their jailhouse uniforms and tell their stories, which are inspiring to say the least. However, there is a prestige in their lawlessness. There is an idea of toughness and, dare I say this, there is the perception of being cool, of being almost impenetrable, of being used to pain and able to endure, which is more alluring than deterring.
Even when people say, “None of this is cool” and it is clear that there is no prestige about jail or crime or the senselessness about violence or gang life; still, the attraction exists.
Even the term Scared Straight, although frightening and true and intended to elicit a certain response, the result is often different from the intention.
The answer is because nobody picks on the tough guy. Another answer is the outcomes and the sentences, the jail time, the scars and the aftermath is actually an image that tells a story. This shows anger and pain. This is more of a statement to express one’s thoughts and feelings. This is what happens when people cannot express themselves or understand their own thinking and emotional data.
I used to have a program on Sunday mornings at a county jail. I suppose we could call this a class or maybe this was a group. Either way, the intention was to create thought and conversations to bring about a new concept of living. We wanted to build a new strategy by understanding more about our old behaviors and belief systems.
For example, why do we act the way we act? Why do we take on an image as a means of protection or to provide a sense of personal safety?
One morning, the subject of lifestyle came up for discussion. The question on the table was would we want this type of life for our children?
The answer was an astounding no. Nobody wanted their children to do what they did or feel how they felt. Yet, there were fathers who swore their children would never follow in their footsteps. But where were they to teach their children?
I remember sitting in a truck with a man named Kenny. I liked Kenny. He was older and working in the shop where I was at the age of 16.
Kenny was talking about his drug life and I was talking about mine. He was telling me about what not to do. He was warning me about what to stay away from yet, there was something attractive about his suggestions.
I was drawn towards the ideas instead of being repulsed. He was telling me, “Don’t ever let it get like this.” Meanwhile, the needle marks in his arms were more like a roadmap to an episode that was romanced and glorified.
I’ve seen plenty of older brothers rolling joints and before lighting it, I heard them tell their kid brothers, “If I ever catch you doing this, I’m going to kick your fuckin’ ass!”
Is this a deterrent?
Or, is this more attractive?
Would you like to know why I did what I did?
I was insecure. I was small and afraid, which is why I acted out. I was angry. I offer the analogy of an infant child who cannot voice themselves nor do they have the ability or the language to explain their thoughts or discomforts. In which case, they cry or they scream or fall into a tantrum.
It would be inaccurate to say that adults do not do the same thing.
We might not throw our peas on the floor or scream that our diaper needs changing, but this doesn’t mean we don’t have discomforts and act out. This doesn’t mean we don’t respond to internal discomfort or uneasiness.
Every action has a reason and intention. Everything we say or do is done to honor a thought, a need, a want or a feeling. I’d much rather explain this than stand in front of a group of kids and discuss my ideas of setting a school on fire, which is real by the way, and no . . . this story will not come up later in my entries.
And think about this; which is more attractive to a troubled kid?
Would it be more attractive if I said, Hey, I decided to step away from the crowd and not have a “cool” social life or be part of the nonsense and popularity?
Or, I was angry and wanted people to know it. So, this is what I did to create fear and be crazy.
Crazy. Let’s think about this word for a second.
In an interview, Charles Manson was asked, “Is Charlie Manson crazy?”
Manson replied, “Well, whatever that means. Sure, he’s crazy. He’s mad as a hatter. What difference does it make? You know, a long time ago, being crazy meant something. Nowadays, everybody’s crazy.”
Think about this message and think about its delivery.
Here it is a message from a man whose name was infamous and synonymous with the devil, murder and violence. And who received record numbers of fan mail while in prison? Charlie, that’s who.
I am sharing this for a reason.
As I write to you on this Monday morning, I am also preparing for a college lecture. The lecture itself is simple.
The topic is my first book “Operation Depression” in which I detail the mapping of my history and talk about the what’s, why’s and where’s. I do not glorify nor sensationalize my behaviors. In fact, I seldom list my behaviors or the drugs or anything that would promote the glamor of a gun-toting idea.
My intention was to humanize my challenges and discuss my emotional hardships. But more, my aim is not to promote mental illness but instead, to offer an idea of mental health and personal redemption.
My objective is to outline a way out instead of a way in and rather than glorify a sad history, I choose to promote the wealth of personal honesty.
Not too long ago, I sat in a room with men who were sober for 30 years and more. I will have 31 years on April 1, 2022.
I often discuss my recovery; however, I have been sober far longer than the history of my drug or alcohol use. Therefore, I prefer to focus on my mental health and the strategies to keep myself healthy and away from troubled or depressive thinking. This is what’s important. Otherwise, it can be really simple to lose one’s self to depression or react in self-destructive ways.
Each person in this room shared their thoughts and in fact, all of their thoughts were about drinking.
“I used to drink about this.”
Or, “I drank and this happened.”
Or, “Back when I was drinking . . . “
This is what the conversation sounded like.
Then it came to my turn.
I stopped drinking a long time ago. And part of the reason why I stopped drinking is so that I don’t have to talk about drinking anymore. Instead, I talk about my thoughts or my feelings and the ideas that hurt me.
I’d rather talk about solutions than symptoms.
That’s why our behavior is, it’s a symptom.
I don’t want to be part of my symptoms anymore.
I would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem.
I understand the prestige of a title.
I get the reasons why kids idolize gangsters or the tough guys.
Back when I was trying to figure out my life for the first time, I didn’t know how to express myself. I didn’t know it was okay to NOT be okay.
There’s nothing wrong with being afraid. There’s nothing wrong with understanding our pain. In fact, the moment we detail the maps of our background to understand the reasons why we think, feel or act is the moment we can take ownership of our new lives and create a new sense of existence.
There was a young person at my last lecture. This person had copies of two books that were written by me. This person asked me to sign them and then said, “This is why I am going to be a counselor.”
I am not writing this to boast or pat myself on the back. Instead, this is equally for me as it is a means to communicate with you.
Identity is everything. This is who we are and how we choose to identify ourselves. I would rather inspire emotion and share a sense of honesty than promote the lies that create more harm.
Lastly, there was a conversation in one of my jail programs about the gateway drug. Some said it was marijuana. Some said it was alcohol. I asked, “Well, why isn’t it aspirin or why isn’t it Tylenol?”
Aren’t these drugs?
I remember when I was a child and Mom gave me baby aspirin. She dissolved the little pill in water and then gave me the spoonful when I didn’t feel well.
Isn’t this a drug?
I asked about infants and what do we do when an infant cries? Some answered that we feed them. Some said we change their diapers. Some said we get them to nap. But ah, don’t we give them something to put in their mouth? And what is that called?
Isn’t it called a pacifier?
A baby cries and lacks the ability to call out for its needs. We don’t know if the baby has a headache or a stomach ache or if the child is scared or tired or in need of something.
So, we give them a pacifier to appease them and help them calm down.
So, then why isn’t a pacifier a gateway drug?
We have been taught to use outside sources to fix internal dilemmas since birth. The conversation around this was interesting. The reward from this was incredible.
One of the people in the class decided to write a book which he called, Ban the Pacifier. He talked about his life and the way he tried to soothe himself.
Sometimes we speak and we wonder if anyone listens or if anybody even cares. The truth is someone’s always listening. They might not always hear but there is always someone listening.
Even if the numbers are few or even if the number of people is only one – never stop doing what you do.
You just might inspire someone to live their life and in return, they will inspire you to live yours.
Thank you for this.
Hi there! I wanted to say… I am listening. You mentioned writing a lecture for a college course… are you a professor? I am (in the disciplines of Psychology and Communication Studies)…just wanted to say hi to a fellow teacher 🙂 Oh, and a fellow friend in recovery!
I am a mental health advocate and specialist with some recovery and certified peer credentials as well as a life coach and motivational speaker. I am lucky enough to be invited to different venues to discuss topics like mental health, recovery, suicide, anxiety, depression, transformational growth and personal improvement.
Truly appreciate your support and your kind words. As for being a teacher…. well, not really. I’m more of a learner who shares the lessons that helped me the most
One day at a time
That is great! Thank you for sharing this with me, bennyk. I completed a practicum and internship at our county behavioral health clinic, which really opened my eyes to the importance of helping others learn to manage their mental health. It sounds like you do a great service to the world by sharing the lessons that have helped you the most! 🙂