There are so many different versions of me, which took place at different times. Of course, there is the younger version of me. There is the scared version and the anxious version. There is the angry version of me and the unhealthy side too.
Not to mention, there is a gentle side and an empathetic side. There is the part of me which has healed and another part of me which has forgiven my trespasses as well as a part that has forgiven those who’ve trespassed against me.
There were days when I was at the top of the crest, riding the waves of luck or good fortune and, of course, there were days when I crushed and tumbled inwards like a wave that crashes into rocks.
There were times when life was calm and other times when life was tumultuous like an angry sea in the center of a miserable storm – yet, in the thick of the storm, there was this part of me who was a witness, staring at the aftermath and looking at the life that was right in front of me.
I can say there were times when my choices were based on the enemies in my mind, which was me at the time. Yet, I am the outcome. I am the aftermath. I am 31 years north of a sickness that takes lives on a daily basis. Yet, I am so much more than this.
There were times when I was sitting in a small holding cell awaiting my moment before the judge to either be held or set free on bail. Either that, or I held onto the hope that I would be let go on my own recognizance.
There were times while I was awaiting the consequences of my actions, sitting alone in a small cage with nothing but the fact of my life to keep me company. I had no one else but the narrative in my head which talks too much, like an annoying guest that doesn’t know when to leave.
There were times when in the sunken pit of my own sad self, I saw something like a glimmer of light or hope. I saw a spark, you could say – and I knew it was somewhere within me – but how do I find this?
I knew there was a choice – live or die – and whether the choice was clear to me or if the choices were mine, I knew there was a way. I only had to find it.
I suppose my problem was making the choice to either live or die – or better yet, the choice would be more accurately defined as a live or exist because one means being alive and the other means simply existing, lifelessly, pointlessly and aimlessly awaiting the hour when life happened or death came in its way.
I suppose another challenge was my energy levels because at this point, I knew that there was a debt to pay – whether my debt was to society or to a lawyer or to whoever posted my bail – either way, I knew I had to pay. But bankruptcy drains you; in which case, I do not mean the financial kind. No, this is the emotional kind of bankruptcy that takes more than a lawyer to gain your credit back.
That’s me right there in the cell down towards the end of the corridor.
I am alone for now. But the night is early which means it is only a matter of time before the drunks come in and howl their vomit into stainless steel commodes. You can hear the echoes of them retching their vomit-less screams with a sick stomach but nothing to come out.
I am long haired and angry, tired too, but hey, this is not the most restful place. I am sitting on a bench that runs along the right hand side of the wall and nearly runs the entire depth of the cell, from the front to the back. In the rear left hand corner is the toilet which is molded out of stainless steel and rises up with a pedestal behind it to act as a water fountain.
There are scratches in the bench, as in different names from the various overnight visitors.
Every so often, you can hear the sound of the hard-shoe footsteps that stem from the footsteps of the guards. You hear them approach with a jingle of keys from a key ring as they parade a new guest down the halfway.
Everything echoes and everything is rebranded into the staleness of institutionalized space.
There’s a hum from the overhead fluorescent light fixtures in the corridor.
Can you hear it?
The cell itself is small and dim.
As you might imagine, there is a smell which is unforgettable. There is also the smell of unclean bodies which gets worse as the night goes on. I say this because before entering the holding cell, the guards have you take off your shoes to keep people from hanging themselves with their shoelaces.
Stinky feet, stinky socks. Yep, sure.
This was there.
That’s me, sitting by myself, contemplating the next steps.
That’s me, fully aware that it was my steps which led me to where I was.
I knew that I couldn’t blame anyone else. I knew that regardless of the tattle-tale-rats who mentioned my name in one of their scuffles with the law (to get out free) or to benefit one of their profit meetings with a prosecutor. In fact, it was me who put myself here and since this was so, then it would also be me who could set myself free.
The question to me was clear:
How do you save your own life on a daily basis, every day, for the rest of your life?
I would like you to envision this place and think about the sounds of cell doors slamming shut and echoing. I want you to think about the handcuffed mishaps which took place earlier when I was being brought into custody. To be transparent, I am not accusing anyone of police brutality; however, I will admit that my demeanor and reactions were certainly cause for the arresting officers to be less-than gentle.
I write this to you and, of course, I can see the different instances when I was either in the backseat of a squad car or in a station house – either that or in a cage with my right hand cuffed to a chain and linked to a bar that ran beneath the bench while I awaited processing.
Is this dark to you?
Good, that means I am doing my job.
I write this to you and as I do, I can see me yet I cannot recognize who I am or was; nor can I fathom this person at all because, in fact, this person is not me. In fact, this was never me.
Not at all.
This was a response. This is what I call part of a self-destructive response disorder – also known as substance abuse (or use) disorder. This is part of the addiction process and part of the alcoholic monologue, of poor me and “Oh. look what’s happened to me!” Or, “look what the world did to me!”
This was all a response to misunderstood representations of thoughts and feelings. Due to my cognitive distortions and the deception of my perception coupled with the inaccurate messages and internal lies – this is all part of a response mechanism that was not just due to the chemistry in my mind; but more, this was part of an entire pathology or science.
There was a reason for me being where I was. There was a reason for why I responded the way I did.
There was self-hatred and social awkwardness. There was a history of abuse that might not have been noticed or seen or even addressed yet this kind of abuse is the one which leaves the invisible scars – I mean the emotional kind. Yet, there I am over there – sitting in a cell and thinking about the ideas of what happened the night before and, of course, wondering to myself, “What the hell was I thinking.”
I can recall a late night visit to the cells and how the windows lined the walls across from the holding cells. I was held after some bad choices and there I was – no excuses.
I can recall the foul smells and the sounds of drunks screaming from the depth of their own cells while calling out to the guards, shouting, “I know my rights!”
I recall a moment of clarity while sitting on the bench and looking through the bars of my cage. I was looking up at the window at ceiling height. The window was partially open.
I recall watching the nighttime sky go from dark to light – meanwhile, everything in the cages and in the hallways felt remanufactured and synthetic.
Everything seemed remanufactured; as if all the naturalness of life or the purity of fresh air had been stripped of its cleanliness or innocence and been refurbished to feed the lungs of stagnant bodies where men sit to await their fate.
I can see myself.
I can see the way I was and the total abandonment of hope yet there was a sense of relief with this because at least now I knew something was about to change. I knew that from my catastrophes, change was about to come. I had no idea what this change meant or if this would be easy or harder – but either way, I knew that a change was in the mix.
That was me, right there, being connected to a series of other men in a line, connected like infected paper dolls, marching in a hand-cuffed parade of crooks, criminals, drunks and fools. That’s me right there, sitting in the back of a truck while being taken over to the courthouse to face the judge. I am not alone but I wish I was.
I am cuffed to men who are comfortable with their surroundings. This wasn’t their first rodeo and as statistics have it, this probably wasn’t their last time in front of a judge either.
I know that I’ve heard sayings that go, a leopard can’t change its spots.
I’ve heard people say, once a junkie, always a junkie.
Or once a crook, always a crook.
I have heard people say that no one is ever rehabilitated. On top of this, I recall someone telling me, “You never had an addiction because if you did, you would have never gotten clean.” The funny thing is I understand what this meant.
I get it. I really do.
I get the belief system that no one can change and how unless this thought process is re-wired to believe in new possibilities; nothing and no one changes without the belief that this is actually possible.
There was a teacher from when I was a kid who said that I would be dead by the time I am 19.
There were teachers who told me that I would be lucky to get a job, pumping gas, or more probable than not – I would be digging ditches somewhere because that would be the extent of my expertise.
They were wrong.
I knew people who bet against me and for this, I’m not bitter or angry because I understand why they thought this way.
I get it.
That’s me over there in the center of a classroom.
I am walking in a circle because classroom requirement for my lectures is that I have the class arrange their desks in a circle.
There’s a reason for this.
The reason is that I walk around the inside of the circle. I do this to make eye-contact with everyone in the room.
That’s right. Me, the so-called junkie.
Me, the so-called learning disabled.
That’s me right there, the so-called drunken loser who could hardly read – and that’s me, someone who was flown across the country to share my experience in an effort to help someone achieve their own sobriety.
No, this is not a big pat on my own back or me saying “look at me” or “look how good I am.”
No, this is a partial timeline of events and a detailed arrangement which defines the fact that in spite of our challenges – each and every one of us can reach for greatness at any time.
We can overcome anything at any time.
We just have to find a reason and a motion strong enough to overtake the tide that pummels us to the ground.
I confess. . .
There are days when I am high on the crest of the wave and moments when I crash like a wave into the rocks.
There are times when, yes, I am like any other human in this world and yes, I am tired.
Yes, I am hurting and yes, there are times when I contemplate the ends and the ideas of quitting.
There are times when I think “what’s the use?”
Then there are times when I am alive and well and standing in front of a roomful of people – or standing on camera and discussing the simple basic features of our mental health and our personal wellbeing.
There were so many times that I wanted to quit
But I couldn’t . . . .(because of you)
Can you see?