Memories From the Balcony – Where the Dream Began

I know I’ve told you about the farm and my own version of what I’d like to create someday. I want to build a farm of my own; however, my reasons and my intentions are not the same.
My reason for this journey is no different from anyone else’s. In the beginning of my life, I suppose my goal was to find my purpose. But I struggled
I wanted to find something that made sense to me. I had challenges.
I suppose why I started writing this journal (or any of my journals) is because I wanted to detail my trip in the best possible way. My goal was to help me understand the life I lived as well as learn new ways to process the information around me.

I have always wanted to think, feel and believe that I have accomplished my life to its best possible level.
And this is more than finding out what my purpose is.
To me, this was more than learning how to define my reasons for being.

I wanted more than just a day to day life. I’ve always wanted more.
I want more than just a job.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to find a better level of understanding.
But I had challenges. I had medicated resistant challenges. I have depression and anxiety disorders and social fears and discomforts that can be crippling.
I never wanted any of this. Then again, nobody does.

So, I wanted more.
At the same time, I wanted to find the perfect center of balance.
This is not to say that I’d never be off-balance or that I would always be perfect.
Instead, I wanted to find a level of awareness that helped me see clearly.
I wanted to achieve a level of understanding that allowed me to realize that no matter what’s happened in the past, no matter what I’ve done to others and no matter what’s happened or been done to me; at last, I could find a level of homeostasis or stability.
I wanted to find a level of comfort that could never be taken away from me.
I wanted to own this, claim it and keep it.
I wanted to find a personal coordination or harmony.
This way, life could no longer dictate my being; but instead, my life would be upon me.
This meant that I would always be the deciding factor.
Nothing would be hinged on passion or the codependency of my outside influences.

At last, my life would belong to me.

To be clear, I have always wanted to build something.
I have always wanted to create a plan for people who were like me or challenged.
I wanted to build something for the person who was somehow uncoordinated within their own selves.
This would be for the person who is somehow missing, somehow mismatched in this crazy world, and though the word crazy has several meanings, I wanted to build a bridge between life and those who otherwise live lifelessly. 

There’s this word that people use.
I’ve talked about this before.
But there’s a word that people use; as if things are that simple.
The word is “just”
As if telling someone “just” don’t think like that is enough to change a chemical imbalance or change the internal workings of a personal disorder.

I remember the time I took a trip back up to the farm. To be clear, the farm was a long-term treatment facility. This is a place that was lifesaving to me. I got clean here. I was able to deal with the loss of my Old Man here.
More importantly, I said goodbye to the boy I was and hello to the man I was about to become.

It had been years since my departure. I was different now. I was grown in more ways than the physical or the typical sense. I was still clean and sober. I was on the move though and trying to find my direction in life.

The farm had changed since my tenure. In some ways the place was nothing like what I had experienced.
In other ways, there was nothing different. There were groups of kids who came from different places and struggled with different challenges.

It is not accurate to say that one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental health.
It is not accurate to say that one-size-fits-all when it comes to understanding and improving the mental health of others.

It is furthermore inaccurate and unhelpful to group people together and have them pursue a singular approach when, certainly, not all things are the same. No two people are exactly alike. Chemistry changes and so do cultures, histories, backgrounds and individual degrees of trauma. 
There have been research on cancer which proves that working with a persons exact DNA is more effective and lifesaving than say, “just” giving someone chemo or radiation. The same facts hold true when treating people with mental health.

It is not only inaccurate to group people together and tell them, “you have a disease,” it is also unhelpful and possibly deadly.
It is wrong to diagnose anyone without being truly accredited or fit to diagnose anyone with a disease – especially if the disease is one that is linked to substance abuse or alcohol abuse disorders.
Secondly, life is not easy at any age.
Treating, judging and diagnosing is not quite as helpful as supporting an understanding of how people can learn to live with their challenges. Rather than focus on problematic thinking, we need to create more solution based thinking.
We want to create living skills (above coping skills) thereby allowing people an internal understanding of themselves by teaching proof-based and understandable methods by which they can retain their learned information. Above all things, this is the most helpful tool when you’re trying to reach the unreachable.
Let’s not mix words here. Yes, some people are unreachable.
Some people need different levels of care and attention. 
Not all plans or programs are a match.
We are all different. We all have our own lives and our own DNA.
My opinion here is not just that we “act” accordingly but that we “treat” people accordingly.

Perhaps it was here . . .
Maybe it was my visit to the farm when the idea first came to me. 

I watched a young man become challenged with his cleaning detail. Please allow me to explain. The farm life was a detailed life. There were rules and work details. They kept you moving. They kept you working and learning.
This was a great thing; however, there was no leniency.
The motto was if you were late to work, you didn’t eat. The idea was that in real life you had to make it to work on time.
If you didn’t make it to work on time then you would be out of work – and if you’re out of work, then you wouldn’t have any money to eat.

So . . .
The rules for breakfast were simple. Everyone had to be over to the main house by a certain time.
Not a minute later.
Else, the entire bunk would have to go without breakfast.
Everyone had a job in the morning. Whether it was cleaning the floors or the bathrooms after the 2-minute showers, everyone had a job. This meant everything had to move quickly and smoothly.
Otherwise, no breakfast.
That was the worst . . .
This is not to say the food was the best. No, it wasn’t.
But sitting in the dining room and watching everyone else eat was brutal.

On the morning of my visit, I watched one of the young members getting ready. He was a person with challenges.
More accurately, he was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
His compulsion to have everything neatly clean and organized was more than a typical compulsion.
You hear people misuse this word all the time.
I have O.C.D
No you don’t . . .
This young man’s disorder was beyond a simple obsession.
I can remember this so clearly and vividly.
The dorm members were yelling at him to hurry up.
Otherwise, they would be late again.
Otherwise, they would miss breakfast – again!
“Just stop!”

I watched this young man cleaning his cubby and organizing his things.
He couldn’t stop himself. He couldn’t just walk away.
This young man needed different attention. He needed a different level of care.
He also needed a place where the level of understanding for his disorders were supported by more than a 12-step fellowship or behavioral rehabilitation facility. 

I visited the farm with hopes to rekindle an old idea that had somehow faded.
I was going through troubles of my own at the time.
I suppose I wanted to go back to where “it all began” so-to-speak. 

I talked to the young man.
“I know what I’m doing,” he said.
“And believe me, I want to stop but I can’t.”
He told me, “I just can’t.”

“It’s like a voice in my head that just keeps talking to me and talking to me.”
“Do you think I really want to be like this?”
My answer to this is no.

Now, of course, as a man whose parents are both gone to the afterlife, I am sure if they were here now they would tell you that cleaning was not part of my obsessive compulsions.
No, my challenges were different. 
But mine were no less punishing.

I would relive moments in my head. I could never be calm.
I was always uncomfortable and always awaiting the impending doom.
Then my anxiety would take off.
Then my thoughts would spin me out of control.
I would rehearse old conversations. I would try to relitigate them and try to recreate the past.
I would think about my discomforts, over and over again in my head.
Then I would rehearse what I would say, if or when, or if or how these conversations would take place again.

I could never let anything go.
My thinking hung on the discomforts of my life. Rather than search for a solution, I focused on the problem.
I couldn’t think of anything else except for the catastrophes.
I was stuck in the mindset of rejective thinking.
I was always looking to defend myself, always trying to protect myself and, essentially speaking, I was always looking for shelter from the storm.

I was never comfortable. I always suspected that something was wrong with me. I thought I could never be like “anybody else.” Then again, I was too lost in my own depression to realize the victory of not being like “anybody else.”
Do you know what people would tell me?
“Just don’t think like that.”
Do you mean, it’s “just” that simple?

There was another trip back to the farm which took place years later.
I was thinking about writing a book about my time in treatment.
I was able to see people from my youth. I was able to say hello to some of my old “family” friends.
I was there to see an entirely new group of kids.
In fact, I spoke to 276 kids.
Wow . . .
The farm had grown considerably. This place had become almost unrecognizable to me.

There were about 35 to 45 kids living on the farm when I was in treatment.
We were all there for behavioral and substance abuse challenges.
I walked the grounds to see this place which was so influential to my early life.
The farm was essential to my early survival. 

One of the kids had an episode. . . .
He would hear voices that told him to do terrible things.
I’m sorry, but at the same time – I’m not sorry.
This place was not in a facility that matched his need for care.
I’m sorry but not sorry because I do not see how a 12-step model and basic lessons of sobriety matched the needs for his level of care

He was crying and having a meltdown.
To be fair, this kid was huge. I mean BIG!
He stood much taller than me. He was big and certainly strong. He was yelling and screaming.
He was crying with tears leaking from his eyes and lines of drool and spit flying from his bottom lip.

Please forgive me . . .
As I am writing this, I am crying because I can see him now.
This kid did not ask for this to be his life . . .

I can see the classroom that he was standing in.
I can see how the chairs were surrounding him.
I can see the other kids who were trying to reason with him and literally trying to get him to do the work detail which they were assigned. 
This was not his first breakdown. If my memory recalls correctly, there were different levels of hospitalization for this young man.

Fuckin kid . . .
He didn’t ask for this.

All I can remember is walking in the room. I walked straight up to him.
I don’t know why. I don’t know if this was the right thing to do.
I just knew that I couldn’t let him hurt himself  – or anyone else. 

He broke down and talked to me.
Me . . . of all people. This kid trusted me. 
(Can you believe that?)

“They tell me things,” he said
“I don’t want to hurt anyone!”
He kept saying this, almost pleading with me
“I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

I held this young man in my arms the way an older brother would console his younger brother.
He told me “I don’t want to live this way anymore.”

After the crisis settled, I instructed the two other students to come to me. They entered the classroom.
I instructed them to take my new friend to his dorm to get his things, which is what they were supposed to do.
Then I said, “After that, I want you to bring him right back here to me.”
“Understand? Right back to me.”

See, my bouts were very different. However, I can recall my challenges when I was young.
I can remember the times when my anger literally tore me apart. I can remember hearing the sounds of breaking glass in my head and, just like that, a flash of violence took over in my mind.
I could see these bloody images.
I could hear the glass breaking and yes, this hurt me.
It literally hurt me.
I am not a stranger to violence. I am not confused as to why some people lose to their way of thinking and resort to outrage.
I am not surprised when kids lose control or react in violence.
I had my own battles.
I had my own mapped out plans to get revenge on the world. 

I used to have whispers in my mind, which were not audio hallucinations by any means.
Instead, I had this internal voice or narrative that was more punishing than a bully at school. 

My mental and emotional challenges were not the same; however, I could relate to this young man. 

I think he might have been the first kid to ever call me Uncle Benny.
I remember telling him, “No one’s ever gonna pick on you when I’m around son.”
I can remember him hugging me.
So tight.
He was crying so hard and I got it.
He needed this.
I looked him in his eyes and assured him.
“Do you understand me?”

He repeated, “I don’t want to hurt anybody . . .”
I got you son . . .
“You tell them I said to leave you alone.”

I didn’t argue with him or his voices.
I supported him. I listened to him.
I allowed him to give me information.
I comforted him and when the time was right or when the crisis subsided, I allowed him the dignity to be treated like a person.

No, I’m not saying this was right or wrong.
I’m not saying any of this from a clinical aspect at all.
Instead, I am relaying this story to you as a means of information.
I’m telling you this because this is one of the reasons for my journey.

“You tell them I said to leave you alone.”
I repeated this to him while holding him in my arms.
“No one is allowed to pick on you anymore.”
Then I asked, “Do you know why?”

He looked at me almost surprised that I asked.
He answered me, “Because Uncle Benny said so!”
(Thanks for this one kid. You have no idea how much you mean to me, even now, decades later.)

See, this might not have been a long-term solution. Sure, there were probably breakdowns after this one.
The young men in the classroom did as I asked. They took him back to his bunk. I noticed one of them shortly after. He was standing in the hallway.
I asked where my friend was . . .

“Getting his things.”
“Didn’t I ask you to go with him and bring him back to me?”
I wasn’t being authoritative, I was being brotherly.
He ran, got my new friend and did as I asked.

So, to be clear, I was an alumni of sorts. This is a respected position.
But to me, I’m any of those kids.
No better. No worse.
I was once a person on the farm. I had different challenges; in some cases, the 12-step modalities were helpful to me.
In other cases, I needed different levels of care.

A woman named Susan was standing nearby.
She looked at me after all of this took place.
“You need to work here,” she said to me.
Hence, the dream began.

Why does this matter?
This matters because Susan knew me when I was young.
She saw me when I sick and in need of help.
She was also there when I relapsed almost 32 years ago.
She was there to love me back into the arms of my family.

I saw an opening here. I saw the porthole to a dream.
This is a dream that I have not forgotten.
One day, I am going to build a place where people can go to get well.
This will be my farm.

This will not be a place where one-size-fits-all,
at least not on my watch.
This won’t be about drinking, drugs, drunk, high, clean or sober.
This place won’t be for everyone.
But for those who choose to come . . .
I’ll be there for them
And you will too
(at least I hope so).

I will close with this –
It was an honor for me to hold that young man and let him cry on my shoulder.
A man by the name of Mathis let me do the same thing when I was young.
Only, Mathias died by his own hand before I ever had the chance to thank him.

But me . . .
I’m not going anywhere
Not any time soon.

I promise.

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