Down to the Last Bite: A Moment From the Farm

There were about 40 to 45 guests at the farm where I lived towards the end of my teenage years. This was not a funny farm of any sort nor was the word fun a choice that I would pick for what went on at the farm. I say this with love and respect as well as in honor of a time where I underwent a lifesaving change. 
To set the stage, I lived on a farm in a small mountain town, far away from anything that was familiar to me. The scene was pretty and calm. The views from the farm were breathtaking yet I was not there for the food and friends nor was I there for the experience.

I called us guests of the farm in the opening sentence. However, none of us were guests at all. No, we were more like patients or in some cases and according to some opinions, we were more like inmates. There were those who considered themselves hostages – yet, all of this was based on perspective. Of course, this was based on the individual’s perception of intense treatment for behavioral disorders, addiction, alcoholism or different authority or opposition disorders.  Yes, this was all part of the day. This was all part of our program. This was also part of the disciplinary charges where they cut my hair short and made me wear signs. I had to sit in the corner and face the wall like a child.

As I say this, I think back to my time on the farm and relate this to my current levels of training and education. To be clear, I understand the farm’s choices of “treatment” and related programs were not altogether helpful or appropriate. I know that the farm’s tactics were counterproductive in some ways.
As a specialist a professional who assists in treatment based programs, I understand where the farm went wrong. I also acknowledge and heartily submit that had it not been for my time on the farm, which was more than three decades ago, I would not be who I am today.
I would not be where I am. Had I not spent my time here on this farm, my dreams, hopes and visions that I would open a farm someday would not exist. I offer this because this is true. My hopes and my vision is to open a farm of my own and create a transformational life program by using a wellness-based curriculum that includes mental health understanding, life skills, and both the normalization and the humanization of life and its struggles.

Yet, in accordance with the title of this journal and since this is based on the sentiments of memorable times and the dinner table, I would like to offer you this version of my life. Secondly or more admittedly, I need to disclaim the fact that the food was always wholesome and good. In fact, our meals were certainly not held to a high culinary standard. 
The food we ate was cooked for a large group of people. There were rules. You can ask for a half portion or a full portion but the rule was everything had to be eaten from the plate, like it or not. Otherwise, the food you refused to finish would sit in front of you at the next meal and this would continue until you ate whatever was left. 

Picture this: a main house with a large dining room with tables made for mainly teenagers and some young adults who were there, either as a legal mandate or as a family requirement to clean up our lives and stay sober. No one was particularly well behaved. We all had our gripes and our complaints. Mainly, there was a lot of bitching and complaining about the work details and there was a lot of complaining about the food.

As a matter of fact, there was a member of the house who was known as Billy Beans. In short; we called him beans because Billy did not like green beans. He never ate them before nor would he eat his green beans for three days until Billy finally understood that the farm was not going to change their protocol or adhere to Billy’s demands. Therefore, in an effort to stop the repeating sight of green beans at the table next to Billy’s plate at every meal, Billy decided to down the small side plate of green beans – disgusted as could be with an unhappy, twisted look on his face. 

Myself, I cannot say that I was a fan of the food but I cannot say that all the food was bad. However, I can say the food was made for us and by us. I can say that every member of the household took a turn in the kitchen. While I hated this at the time, and while I hated my early morning wake-ups and the disciplinary changes, the pot sink punishments, polishing the floors on my hands and knees with a napkin and the cleaning crews and the work details; as crazy as this sounds, my time on this farm is linked to some of my best or most redeeming memories of my youth.

I was new to this gig we call sobriety. I was new to different realizations in which I had to retrain myself to read. I had to retrain my mind to speak clearly. Plus, I had to navigate through some uncomfortable realizations about who I was and what I had gone through, Alongside this, I had to acknowledge the wreckage of my past as well as the wreckage of my youth. I had to address my angers and ideas of victimization due to an unwanted touch by an adult. And there, yes. I said it.
I had to deal with this and process an indecent secret which, to me, I saw this mark as an unchangeable blemish that I would neither heal nor recover from. To me, this was irremovable and unalterable yet I learned that I was wrong about this the same as I was wrong about myself.
There were other instances of emotional shame and interpersonal neglect, which I tried to handle in an otherwise environment by chemically subsidizing the unwanted details of my life. I tried to pick an alternate balance whereas, yes, I was still alive. But more, I was weightless and numb to the undesirableness of life’s unfortunate changes.

I was thin at best. More accurately, I was sickly and pale. At the time of my arrival to a treatment facility prior to this one, I weighed 80lbs. I had no desire to stay or keep clean nor was I interested or planning for the benefit of my future.
Instead, I saw my future as finite and diminishing. I saw myself as meaningless and wasted and, of course, why else would I be anything different when my version of people who (I assumed) cared about me, had misused me or chosen to impose themselves in violations that were unfair, abusive or neglectful.

This farm which I tell you about is where me, a young Long Island burnout with long hair and a drug habit, went to shed his skin. Namely, this is where the old me went to die and the new me was born into a new form of existence. But to be clear, before I chose to evolve or change – I resisted every step of the way.
I argued. I complained and tried to run. I tried to find the angles and create a scam to free myself (so-to-speak).
I did what I could to strike a pose and look pretty for the New York State systems. 

So yes, I did the early morning barn crews. I did what I was told and I combed my hair. I played the role, like a good boy. I walked the line yet I was still defiant. In the background of my mind, I was clear that in no way, shape or form was I going to “stay clean” or follow this pattern of living. I was not prepared to change, nor was I interested in anything that did not involve me or the way I wanted to live.

Safe to say that I was in trouble a lot. Safe to say that I was always in the mix of some sort of disruption or deceit. Safe to say that I was fine with my secrets being the root of my sickness. However, while away, my body physically cleaned up. I began to gain weight. My speech became less draggy or slurred and showing color. I no longer presented myself as if I was somehow permanently high or medicated.

My eyes became less shifty or beady and I appeared less guilty. Not to mention, there was no one looking for me. I was not in any real trouble – or perhaps I should say that I was not in any legal trouble anymore. 
And sure, the food was bad. We ate things like beef stroganoff and shepherd’s pie that were less than tasty. We had to eat liver from time to time but, in fairness, there were better meals and good times shared between us.

There were times at the dinner table when I sat with friends. I call them friends because this is who they were to me. There was no con here. There was no backstabbing or social climbing. There was none of this. There was work, school, counseling sessions, prayer time, which was not negotiable and beyond contestation, and then there was mealtime.
There were strict guidelines about flirting, stealing, lying or any choice of living that was not honest or clean. We were here to be stripped from our past and to create a new future which was not easy. 

I can say that I was not one for this program from the start. I was not for the meal options either. And yes, I can say that the first time I had venison for dinner was because the deer was hit by the farm’s van. So in fairness; yes, I ate roadkill. I also ate meat that was butchered from the animals on the farm. That was different for me as well.

Then again, as far as memorable meals are concerned, this was the last place where I sat to dinner with both my Mother and Father at the same time. This was our last meal together and of all days, this was our last time together on Thanksgiving. 
As members of the farm, this was a day when we as patients or inmates (or whatever we called ourselves) were able to sit with our families clear-eyed, sober and out of trouble. We served our parents and our loved ones. We created a festive meal and celebrated the holiday of Thanksgiving with something to be truly thankful for.

Moments before dinner service, my Father and I stood on the upstairs wrap-around patio. We looked out at the mountain view which at the time of sunset was pretty spectacular. 

“You look good, kid.”
See, this is where I have to explain that remnants of cocaine and heroin were no longer in my system. I wasn’t nodding or sounding as if I just came off of a bender. I was not beady-eyed nor were my eyes bloodshot. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t angry or antagonistic. I was me. For the first time, I was able to act, think and perform as my true, authentic self. 
I didn’t drag my feet when I walked anymore. I didn’t appear slow or off-putting in any way.
I wasn’t afraid of what might come if I didn’t medicate myself. I wasn’t worried about the crowds or the various stations of popularity. I was me, just me. For the moment, I was my Father’s son.
I didn’t have to hide my face with shame. I didn’t have to lie anymore. More to the point, I was able to sit at a meal without guilt. Even better, I was able to sit at a table with my family and enjoy a meal which I helped prepare and serve on Thanksgiving Day.

Had I known, maybe I would have appreciated this moment more. Had I known, maybe I would have hugged a little longer. Or, had I known, I would have talked more or maybe I would have said less and simply put; I would have hung on the words of my Father – especially when he said, “I’m proud of you, son.”

“Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.”
“You look good.”

In the history of hearing, “I’m proud of you” from my Old Man, this was one of the few.
In fact, this was the second to last time that my Father told me this.

See what I mean about food being love?
Food is love. This is a connection of nurturing love and care. Food is a time for us to gather. This is a way for us to mend the broken pieces of our heart. In my case, this particular moment, food was the mortar that bonded a Father and his son – so they could both heal.

Currently, I am writing this to you as the world approaches the end of October. We are heading into the holiday months and links to memories from when I was young and on the mend. 
Soon enough though, the City will take on its holiday appeal; thus, we will find ourselves at the end of the year, wishing well to all and goodwill to everyone.

I don’t mind telling you about my recovery. I don’t mind telling you that at one time, I was on the nod and sickly. I don’t mind saying that my wrists were no strangers to handcuffs nor am I a stranger to the inside of holding cells. I don’t mind sharing that the bulk of my self-destruction was due to the casualties of my youth and the process of my early beginnings.
However, what I want to examine first and explain most is the resolution that came between a Father and his son; namely me – a sinner. 

For the record, an old friend of mine reached out to me with a comment on something that I wrote for public consumption. He thanked me for the trip down memory lane. Then he said “And just so you know, we are all proud of you.”
I suppose these words are more than just a simple gift to me. More to the point, these words are the kind that quenches the thirst of loneliness. This is what awakens us to the light that, in fact, we are all good at heart. But hey, I get it.
Life is hard sometimes and there are days when we seem aimless or life seems pointless.
But no matter what goes on in your life; “You” matter. 
I know you do.

Dear Mirror,

You can let go now. No one is mad anymore.
All that went on is gone and no one can ever hurt you or misuse you again.
It’s been a long time. So, you can come out now.
You don’t have to hide anymore.
You don’t have to worry that anyone will impose themselves again.

Know why?
Because I won’t let them
(and neither will you).

Love always,


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