This was my first time . . .
I was hired for a special police initiative
Rather than arrest, process and jail,
they hired someone like me – a specialist –
to direct the person to treatment
to offer help or hope instead of going back
to more of the same.
They called me a specialist
But what does that even mean?
I didn’t see anything special about any of this.
To tell you the truth –
I was scared.
I was petrified because
I know what they would say.
I know how I would be.
I know that I was told to be “Stigma free”
But guess what, stigma is alive and well.
Even if I was stigma free or speaking “non-judgmentally”
as they called it –
I knew what it was like to be on the other side of the table
And me, back then
on the other side, I was full of judgment
I was full of doubt and since I saw me a certain way;
I’d have immediately assumed
that you saw or thought the same thing
which means before we started, I was already at a loss
or at best – at an impasse.
To be fair, when I sat on the other side of the table
I hated people like me.
I hated the so-called righteous or the so-called
“people in recovery” because
just shut up . . .
No one asked you.
I didn’t ask you,
so kiss my ass and give me my bags back
so I could die in peace
or euthanize myself, one dose at a time.
What is this?
I knew what I knew and I knew where I’d been
No two things are alike in this world.
Plus, one could argue
that I had been out of “the game” for a long time.
One could argue
that I didn’t suffer enough to “know” or be helpful.
The one move I made, which was successful here –
I let them be them and me be me.
I didn’t compare.
I didn’t preach.
I didn’t tell anyone what to do.
I only offered what I had . . .
Otherwise, I’d sound preachy
like the counselors who went in after me
only to have the person (or the client) ask,
What happened to the other guy?
Just bring him back in here . . .
I don’t like you . . .
The one thing I knew is that I knew absolutely nothing
and pretending to know is only an insult
especially when someone just got out of handcuffs
or they’re sitting in an interrogation room in the station.
Besides, what does anyone really know when it comes to this?
What can anyone say when it comes to mental health
Or, should we call this what it is
Mental illness . . .
By the way:
No two cases are exactly the same.
Even the similar are different
this was my first time.
This was my first shot exploring the option that maybe . .
I could do this.
Maybe I could be a part of something more or bigger
or better; yet, there were the hopes that maybe
I could be someone beneficial – that I could actually help
I had no idea
what the water was like in this side of the pool
Up until this point,
this was only an idea of mine – to be helpful
This was only an idea to get in the mental health profession
which was an old idea at that.
I had no idea what to expect though
But, I was about to find out.
Just like that, all the role play,
all the rehearsals and all the trainings
and all the meetings that we had about “what to do”
when you’re in the moment –
Yeah, all of that went out the window.
I figured to hell with it.
I’d just wing it, off the cuff
I’d just be me instead of act like someone fancy
or worse, be one of those know-it-alls,
like the counselors were
especially when they told me to
“Stay in your lane!”
In the pocket . . .
There was no one else but me.
There was the person
and the elephant in the room
and the apparent dope-sick look
which was only about to become worse.
And you know them too.
These are people, just like you and me
or just like anyone else.
You’ve seen them before too
Maybe you never knew about their details.
Maybe I didn’t either
But like I said . . .
I was about to find out.
I would like to state for the record:
there was no “typical” person.
This could be anyone . . .
This was “anyone”
They could be your neighbor, your brother or sister,
Mother, father or your best friend or someone you love.
In fact, I met with all of the above.
I saw every background, sexual orientation,
social or economical background –
I met with homeless to wealthy
rich and poor.
These were regular, everyday people.
You know exactly who they are too . . .
you know why they’re in front of you
you know why they do what they do.
You know why their eyes are watery.
Their nose is running and their eyes have this pained look.
They look desperate and sick,
almost like they want to jump out of their own skin
but they can’t.
It’s clear what they’re thinking
because you can see it in their face;
as if to say, Goddammit, just let me get out of here.
“Get these fucking people away from me!”
I knew that’s what I’d be thinking.
That’s what I’d be saying.
One thing I’ll say is the sickness sucks!
I might have been away from it for a long time –
but I remember . . .
I saw this when in the room too
The people or “the client”
They can’t do much of anything
the cramps overwhelm them.
they know there’s only way to solve this problem.
And by solving the problem,
this only digs the hole deeper.
“I guess we can try and kick tomorrow.”
That is, if tomorrow ever comes.
Either way, even if the solution is only temporary,
at least there’s bliss for a little while
At least the sickness will go away
until it comes back
At least maybe a nod or two,
which is not the same at the entryway
or when you were a rookie.
It’s different now.
You’re at the professional level
I say you . . .
But not literally.
I say it this way as a means to explain
or put you in the driver’s seat.
Either way, it’s not like it was when this was all a good idea
just to get high
or feel “better”
The drug settled in now
the days of infinite nods are not what they used to be
It’s more like a job now; the habit, I mean.
I sat in a police station.
The officers brought them in, one at a time,
I sat with them. I talked to them
Like people though.
Know what I mean?
Besides, I’m a person too.
And so you know,
they’ll tell you anything.
They say whatever you want them to say
They’ll agree to anything
and they’ll do whatever you want them to do,
just so long as you get them what they need.
When you’re “in it,”
there is no such thing as recovery
That’s not real . . .
at least not really.
There’s no reason to believe that
there’s another way to live.
There might be another way to live
and this might work for some people
but to a person in the thick of it,
there’s no other way for them.
So, don’t preach . . .
In most cases . .
Nobody wants to be sick
They don’t want to kick
and they don’t want the sickness.
The anticipation of the withdrawal
is a bitch enough
They don’t necessarily want “The Life” anymore either,
but the idea of becoming clean – well,
this is too much to consider.
So, they face the pin in a downward motion
And push the plunger forward
to appease the need until the need goes away . . . .
When you’re in it
there is no way out
there’s no other solution.
So they’ll barter and they’ll trade
they’ll bargain, they’ll swear
they’ll promise—they’ll tell you everything
and anything you want to hear . . .
“Just let me go . . I’ll be right back, I swear.”
They’ll tell you how they want help
and they’ll tell you how they need it too;
meanwhile, they’re trying to negotiate a way out
just to jump through the window while promising
“I swear, I’ll be back tomorrow.”
but tomorrow never comes.
They sit there in the chair across the table
because they can’t leave.
They’ve just been arrested . . .
They can’t run, but you can tell they want to get away.
And I got it . .
I understood this.
I was in a similar seat too – once
I knew why and I know how I would’ve been.
All they want to do is find a way to get back to the spot
(So they can straighten out.)
That’ve been me too
It’s hard to see this
It’s hard to know that I was just like this too
(not anymore though)
It’s hard to sit and listen to lies and excuses.
It’s hard to sit back
or watch as the opioid epidemic spreads
This is like a social virus or cancer
This moves through the veins of our community
while taking one life after another
Also . . .
It’s hard to see the vanished look in their eyes.
I call it a vanished look because the person they were is gone.
All that remains is their body or shell of their former self
and a faint glimmer of the person they used to be.
It’s like a glaze
It’s like a barrier between us.
It’s a possession for sure –
only the demons are different
more subtle but not subtle at all
It’s like something came along and the real them was robbed
Their spirit and charisma
it’s gone . . . or like I said vanished.
Mostly, it was hard to see this because
while I did my job . .
all I saw were the faces of my old friends
and they’re gone now.
They never made it out alive.
I’m not sure why I got away.
How come I got caught and by getting caught, I really got away.
I’m not sure why this is me and not so for others.
I don’t know why or how things happened.
I just knew that I know both sides of this.
I’ve been on either side of the mental health table –
this has been me throughout my entire life.
But this time, I was on a different side
as a professional (so-to-speak)
This time, I was fighting from the other end.
This is when I took a step closer to a dream of mine
which I’d had for a very long time.
I just never knew that this could be me.
I sat in a room with a sickness
that I spent decades perfecting my escape from
and yet this put me back in the belly of the beast
only, I wasn’t with the poison.
No, I was part of the antivenom
I listened and I spoke. Hopefully I helped at least one person—even if it was only for a minute,
at least I helped someone.
Did it bother me to be around this?
Sure it did
Addiction is a terrible disease
But I put on my brave face and I fought back.
I hung in there
I fought back as best as I could
Oh, and Mom . . . (Wherever you are)
I thought of you the entire time
I’m sorry I put you through this all those years ago.
I never knew how hard it was to be on your side of the table.
I’ve earned the right to call myself a professional
I have a bunch of letters next to my name since this time.
I’m a CARC, CRPA, CPS, CPLC, CCH, MHFA-I, NCRC –
and I think there’s more but letters and labels, titles and names are a bit pretentious to me.
Since this time, I’ve become a speaker.
I create programs.
I’ve been part of suicide prevention programs
I’ve run corporate wellness and wellbeing initiatives
I’ve found a way to step closer to my goals because I hold a position in this world.
As I see it, mental illness is the biggest bully of them all
I don’t like bullies
Not one bit.
I’ve been in cell blocks, homeless shelters, hospitals,
boardrooms and at the street level. I’ve been from a park bench to Park Avenue.
I’ve paid back
I’ve paid it forward.
I’ve begun again . . .
They say that to honor a debt, you should repay that debt, in full.
I want to do this on a daily basis.
From now until the hour of my death
I want to pay for what I took.
I want to settle my tab, so to speak.
But more, I want to see someone else rise above
and watch them live.
See that, Pop?
Your baby boy stood up to the bully
And by the way, people do recover
They just need help
Just like I did