We are going to fast forward for a moment and bring you up to a more current speed. This comes from a time of only a few years back. I am older now, of course. Fully grown as an adult with the same responsivities as anyone else. I pay taxes. I have a job – more than one.
I am nervous, however, because I am about to do something I had never really done before – at least, not like this.
I am going to take you to the time when I did what I consider to be my first real presentation.
That’s me, over there. Can you see?
I am not small anymore or afraid or bullied by anyone. I am approximately 5′ 10″ tall and somewhere around 175 lbs.
I do not look like a pushover and I am someone who is both comfortable on a corner in the worst neighborhoods or in a high priced event. By this time, I have seen the worst of my City as well as the best.
That’s me, right there.
I am standing in front of the double doors of a Northern New Jersey high school. That’s me walking through the doors, uncomfortable with my surroundings, anxious and wondering to myself, “What the hell am I going to say?”
Before going forward, it is important to explain that I never had a high school experience. No, it would be safer to say that I did not undergo the typical education of grade school to middle school and from middle school to high school and then to college. No, this was not me at all.
The truth is I never made it out of eighth grade math. I never made it our of junior high because my journey was interrupted by a certain chemical attraction which, of course, this was followed with the eventual dependencies, paranoia, anxiety attacks, social fears, social meltdowns, and so on. This led me to different troubles that both inevitably and eventually resulted in a ride that took place in the back of a squad car.
There’s more to this but my point is not to accentuate the bad things but instead, my aim is to explain the general fears and my old discomforts that came funneling back as soon as I walked into the school.
But yes, I was a young teenage tragedy.
This is not to say that I was the worst of the worst or that I had it worse than anyone else. I am not, nor have I ever claimed to be troublemaker of the year or the worst in the world. I’m not here to show my criminal resume or qualify as some kind of official bad ass.
No, I was me; in which case – I was someone who had to deal with certain chemical imbalances along with certain dependencies. Not to mention, this is included with a history of shame and unwanted encounters, personal and intimate betrayals, hard lessons, witnessed violence and, yes, although I do not want to spend time in this journal talking about suicide or suicidal ideation – in answer to the possible question: my answer is yes.
Suicide and I go way back. Safe to say that we know each other intimately. However, part of my recovery and part of my personal work has been to rectify the misinformation in my head.
I know what it means to live with depression.
I know what anxiety is
I know what violence is
I certainly know what pain is . . .
However, part of my trip and certainly the mission behind my journals and what I do has always been to remove the unwanted disturbances from my past. Rather than lament or sit in the catastrophes, I have learned to find ways to replace thoughts with action (hence, my journals) as well as brighten the pathway to something which I like to call a promising future.
This is why I do what I do.
I do not wish my early years on anyone and I heartily understand that in many cases – I had it easy.
But in any case, this was not easy for me.
No, school was not easy. People are not easy. I have social anxiety. I am afraid of crowds. I live with the constant volume of rejection sensitive dysphoria. Depression and me speak on a constant basis. Yes, this is true.
I am like the 70% of the world who struggle with imposter syndrome. I have challenges with fear; in which case, this is me right over there. Can you see?
I am about to walk through the corridors of a high school where they would lead me to a senior class, introduce me and then I was supposed to share my story to a group of students.
“What the hell am I going to say?”
They were all looking at me. I started to pace.
I started to feel the violent anxiety which to me was the same anxiety that rushed through my body while sitting in a holding cell awaiting my trip before the judge. Outraged, of course, and dangerous – or at least trying to be
I paced like an animal in a cage, afraid of the threats and like the beast, I would strike out, quick and fast, if anything or anyone were to get in my way;. What’s more, I would show them no mercy.
I felt the same fears and the same child-like inadequacies that I had when I was back in school. I felt the same chemical changes in my body that happened when I’d have to read in front of the class – stuttering like an idiot (or so I thought) and open myself to the abuse or ridicule of other students.
I could see myself in my mind’s eye.
I saw who I was.
I saw how I was.
I could see my wimpish posture, submissive, due to the weight of unbearable shame, ideas of rejection (or supposed rejection) and broken and beaten and finally now – I was about to make right with the old wrongs of my life.
Everything was about to change.
I can remember when I was a young boy in school and the teachers introduced speakers to tell us why we should “Just say no.”
I listened to their stories with an honest brand of fascination which was not the intended result by any means.
Not at all. There was something that made sense to me about wanting to rebel or get away, get high, get drunk and rebel against the world.
I recall the speakers coming into my classroom when I was young and, certainly, the motivation of the speaker was to encourage a strong, happy, and straight lifestyle – in which case, their mission failed.
At least I can say this mission failed in my case.
The attraction to drama and the attraction to the bad guy (or girl) is certainly underestimated and unnoticed – and because of this, the speeches of “Just say no” act as an attraction, not a deterrent.
Rather than take the hint of what “not” to do, I took mental notes of an idea, like drinking on the roof of my house which was an idea that came from one of the speakers. I was a kid with a need and then I heard this speaker; she used to sneak out her upstairs bedroom window of her childhood home and drink on the roof.
“What a great idea,” I thought to myself.
I made a decision not to celebrate or honor the method.
Instead, I honored my truths.
I chose to let that person inside of me come out. I chose to let the pain come through.
I chose to channel the bullied child within me.
I reached in, within myself, and by doing so – I told the “old me,” now it’s your turn to speak.
If I were to narrate the internal conversation at the time, I suppose the talk went something like this.
“But what if they don’t like me?”
It’s okay. I’ll be right here.
It’s your turn now.
Don’t be scared. I’m right here.
No one can hurt you with any of this.
“What if they think that I’m stupid?”
You’re not stupid.
“What if this fails and they regret asking me to speak.”
No one is going to bully you.
No one is going to tell you what to do and what to say.
You can tell them how you feel.
You can say what you were afraid of and better yet –
You can tell them why you’re so angry.
There is no holding back.
Just let it go!
“Are you sure?”
Son, I’ve been with you throughout your entire life and I know all about your pains and your secrets. Now is the time you’ve been waiting for. You can yell and you can scream. You can tell them everything. No matter what happens, you and I will go home when this is done.
“Okay then. I’ll do it.”
This was the first time I was ever hired as a speaker. I seldom use the term “motivational” speaker because to me, I don’t like the sound of it and I’m not sure that I like the way this places honor on the ego.
No, if this is to be me – then this is going to be me, which means I am going to be honest.
No, I am going to be totally honest and sometimes painfully honest and even brutally honest.
I never talked much about the drugs or the drinking per se.
Instead, I talked about my fears.
I talked about the darkness in which I was trying to escape; however, the emotional quicksand only seems to pull you in deeper the harder you try to escape. I explained this to a crowd of understanding ears.
I chose to be the kind of speaker I wished that I had heard when I was in the throes of my own personal catastrophes.
I told them about my worst days and the lowest days.
I talked about my lamentable past as well as the loss, the degradation and, by all means, the last thing I wanted to do was shed a heroic light on my actions or behaviors.
This is not a time for glory.
I was not here to tell war stories or talk about the crazy days, which is really like a low-grade version of porn to some kids and only causes the idea machine to turn the gears in the fantasy workshop.
Next, kids follow the leader and why?
Because it’s cool, right?
No, I was going to embody the pain and the desperation. I talked about the “why” and not the “what” to which there was not a dry eye in the room.
Perhaps they were expecting something different. Or, perhaps I was expecting something different.
Instead, this turned out to be an open door for me.
I exploded, unrelenting and without apology and in the end, I saw students weeping. I saw teachers baffled and the presence of the administrators and law enforcement who proposed this effort were all standing in the room, eyes wide-opened.
So, the inner child is who I allowed to come out. However, I am no child.
I am not a small man by any means. I have a New York accent which tends to get a little thick when my emotions run high.
I am heavily tattooed. I don’t look puny anymore and to be clear, I am sure that I was not seen as weak.
No, the inner me had the chance (and the choice) to finally let everything out.
And I did.
I am a sizable man yet I was weeping and crying with drool in my mouth as if I had just witnessed all of the sins against me – and to them, to the students who sat in front of me, nodding their heads nearly the entire time – I said in a finally calm voice “I don’t care if you don’t like me. I just want to keep a needle out of your arm.”
Other than that, I made no reference nor did I speak about drugs at all. Instead, I talked about the reason because I refused to glorify the so-called remedy which I used and nearly killed me.
I answered questions afterwards.
Nobody asked me about the drugs – except for one of the teachers.
“How come you didn’t talk about the drugs”
My whole discussion was about the drugs.
“Yes, but you didn’t mention what they were or what you did.”
I asked the class, “Did anyone not think this was about drugs?”
No one agreed with the teacher.
The scared inner child took this as a threat to which the older me kept my promise.
And as promised – I came to my defense.
My answer to the teacher which came through grinding teeth:
I’m not here to teach a class on where I’d buy drugs or how to get high.
I’m here to teach people how to save their own fucking life.
The teacher stepped back and nodded submissively.
I think that he understood what I was trying to say.
I wish you were there to see the students.
I wish you were there to hear them after I pushed back at the teacher.
I never thought this was going to lead me to where I am now.
But it has.
Note: By the way, I still get nervous and have panic attacks before every presentation. I still pace and I still have that conversation with the inner me. I growl sometimes. In fact, I growled at the mayor of a Long Island town just seconds before I went on and said, “Watch this!”
The subject I was chosen to speak about was bullying in schools and the opiate epidemic.
Um, hey Mom . . .
This is me, right here.
I hope you can see me.
That’s me, right there, your baby boy.
All grown up –