So, over the last few years I have really taken on a love for public speaking. I have spoken to a very wide variety of people from all over the state. I have spoken to groups of Lawyers, Judges, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Social Workers, and Students of nearly every age group and for many different occasions. This is something that previously terrified me. And it all started when I was at the Halfway House and I got a call from someone at the Sheriff’s office telling me that I needed to be at Ivy Tech in Valpo at a certain time. Not asking me. Telling me. And It scared the ever living shit out of me. But I showed up because, well, I knew that I needed to keep saying yes to new challenges and opportunities, plus I owed my life and freedom to the Sheriff so I better not blow them off. They just saved my neck. So I showed up and the rest is rock’n’roll history. But over the years, as I have met and interacted with thousands of people, I have come to realize that my absolute favorite groups to speak to are the kids. Fifth grade through eighth grade to be exact. For a number of reasons really. They’re not used to hearing someone come in and speak to them in such a raw and candid truth as it pertains to the nature of addiction and the importance of good decision making. There are so many rules, guidelines, and political correctness in our schools today, as there should be. I do not disagree with that one bit. I believe that our schools should be a fair, correct, all inclusive and a safe place for our young people to truly get acclimated as should our society but that’s a whole nother subject for a later time. The point is, is that when I was in school, it was all about “Just Say No”, and “This is your brain on drugs”, and “Scruff-McGruff, Chicago, Illinois, 60652” (I actually Just heard Ol’ Scruff’s Voice in my head as I typed that last part). But no one really ever got eye ball to eye ball with me and spoke with us as students to inform us, from experience, what may happen if we said YES to drugs. And when the students are all packed into the little auditoriums, or Gyms or class rooms, and they hear the harsh realities of what it’s actually like to struggle with addiction, they listen. And I must add this, I am NOT writing this for it to be taken as some “good on me thing” because it isn’t. I hurt a lot of people throughout my addiction and there is absolutely nothing glamorous or fantastic about being a drug addict. I am just grateful and blessed enough to be, as I consider it, Living in the solution today, and to be able to give back, even just a little bit. But the kids listen, it’s almost like they welcome it, they take it in like a breath of fresh air. These kids now a days are so much more advanced than we were when we were kids. Thanks to the internet, and snap chat, and instagram, and so on. But they are. And I truly believe that the way to connect with these kids, is to speak to them like the young adults that they are. See, I always thought that a young adult was someone who was maybe 17 or 18 years old. But if we wait until they’re that age to try and reach them, the’re already set in their ways. Plus there’s the fact that kids today for the most part are like 13 going on 30, but I already mentioned how fast they’re growing, up. So I wont repeat myself here too much. But anyways, its a new generation out there. The Quantum leap has occurred and we need to constantly be adjusting out methods and strategies as it pertains to saving some precious lives out there. And I think that that is one of the many reasons why the kids listen when I speak to them. I don’t hold back. I don’t Lie to them, and I definitely don’t sugar coat anything, because life, and especially addiction is not going to sugar coat a damn thing.
And as I have continued to speak with these kids, one of the things that has remained the same, other than my story, because the past isn’t changing, is that I try to get them engaged early. Right off the bat when I start my presentations. (I’m going somewhere with this, I promise, just hang out for a minute). And one of the ways that I have been able to get their attention and keep it early is to ask them a serious of questions. And it usually sounds something like this:
“How many of you young adults in the room have a dream?- You wanna be a Doctor, or a Lawyer, maybe you wanna be a ball player? You have Goals, and high hopes for yourself” “How may of you know what you want to be when you grow up?” And EVERY SINGLE hand in the room goes sky high. One of the reasons why I enjoy asking them this, is that it gets their bright and budding minds working right away. Not only do their hands go skyward, but I just know that they’re all also instantly getting a picture in their minds about what they want their lives to look like in 20 years. Even though these young people are much more advanced than we were when we were young, they’re still at the beautiful age where there is some innocence left. There is still some of that childlike wonder in there somewhere. And I can just see it on their faces. God, to have that innocence back again.
And then I ask them something like this(And in this question it pays to know your audience, I don’t ask the same exact questions to 5th graders that I would 8th graders or freshman. I don’t want to hurt their ideas of life or frighten them out of pursuing their dreams, but you get it.): “How many of you in this room, that just raised your hand- in the pursuit of your dreams, or instead of your dreams, would like to be robbed at gun point by a drug dealer? How many of you in this room would like to pawn your grandmother’s wedding ring twice in the same day to buy Heroin? How many of you would like to sleep in abandoned buildings and eat your only meals out of a garbage can? How many of you would like to watch your only biological child be born into this world in horrible agonizing pain because he was born addicted to Heroin?” And not only does every single hand go instantly down, but by now, you can hear a pin drop in the room- regardless of it’s size. They’re listening. They know that What I’m Sharing with them, is my wound. I’m sharing myself with them. All of me, good and bad. I’m not here with Pie Charts, or statistics. I’m not a teacher, or administrator. I’m just Herb. And the only thing (And in my opinion, the most powerful thing) That I have to share, is my own personal experience.
And then I do my best, to truly explain to them how I got to those places. I very seldom write anything, I just share my thoughts at the time, as the Spirit leads me. I honestly explain to them That I was once their ages, and that I had a dream too. I love fishing, and animals, and my dream was to grow up and be a baseball player. I didn’t Just wake up one day and decide to ditch all of my highest hopes and dreams for myself and jump head first into a lifestyle of drug addiction and crime. That’s not how it happens, which is EXACTLY why I’m here speaking to you all particularly today. At this age. Right now. Looking back on my life, as I was growing up, I have a lot of mixed feelings, memories, and beliefs as to what my childhood was actually like. But no matter what those are, at the time of my childhood, everything seemed normal. It seemed normal to have to walk across the street to borrow a gallon of water from the neighbors because our water had been shut off. It seemed normal to move every year, and to change schools all the time. It seemed normal to be shuttled back and forth from grama and grampas house, aunts house in tennessee, and gramas house in indiana because my parents couldn’t keep their shit together. Everything seemed normal. I just thought that this is how things happen in the world, and I’m not placing blame anywhere, I’m just explaining some things. I had that Childlike innocence, Like these young people do now. The ones that I’m speaking to. And even though we struggled, even though we moved a lot, even though we were all just lower low class common folks from central Georgia, my family had love. We always stuck together. My brothers and I were always very close, my cousins were like siblings. We always did everything together. Holidays, birthdays, campouts. We always did it all together. But one thing that I know now, from looking back, is that no matter how much love I was shown, from anyone, no matter who my friends were, no matter how cool I thought I was- I always felt different. I struggled with Self acceptance, I struggled with self esteem, and I struggled figuring out who I was and what I was here for. At your Age. This awkward adolescent phase that you’re in, I was once in. It sucks. Its uncomfortable. Do people like me? Am I good enough? What the fuck is going on? I get it.
One of the reasons why I love speaking to young people your age, is that you are right on the cusp of the most important years of your life. They may not be the most fun, or feel all that important, but believe me, they are. Right now is when there are some very important changes going on inside of you, and in your life- and I’m not here to deliver the Birds and the Bees lecture, I’ll save that for your teachers here. But what I am saying is that there are some very big changes happening inside your mind. You’re growing up. Soon, if not now, you’ll be learning to cope. You’ll be learning to deal. You’re maturing even as we sit here, and the problems that you are going to be facing in the years to come are nothing like the ones you used to face. You see, I’m standing up here speaking to you as a recovering heroin addict. But remember, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to stick a needle in my arm. Again, that’s not how it happens. Addiction, and the downward spiral of drugs is a series of compromises. One after the other, over time. Some times quicker than with others. But its all a long process of selling out my dreams, of compromising my values for the sake of instant gratification. How many of you want to be liked? How many of you will delete an IG post within an hour if doesn’t get enough likes? How many of you want to be loved? Feel valued? We all do. And that’s why I’m here to tell that my first drug of choice was ACCEPTANCE. See, going back to when I was that awkward middle schooler, when I felt like I didn’t belong, I had a hard time fitting in with myself. All I wanted to do was feel validated. I wanted to fit in and feel all the feels. I wanted and craved instant gratification. I don’t know why, but I did. Maybe I had a hard time bonding with home. I don’t know. So I would constantly act out in various ways, I would strive for positive attention and reinforcement, to remedy what ever internal conflict I had going on at the time. Baseball star, Rebel, class clown, “Ladies man” (yeah right), whatever I had to do to feel like I finally belonged somewhere. And my friends would change as I continued on in pursuit to find myself. To find my place. People would laugh when I joked, and it felt good. People would validate me when I jumped the biggest jump on my bike, or when I struck out a batter. I craved it. It was the only thing that I could do to stay out of my head and keep the focus off of the fact that deep down inside, I’m a scared, directionless, Insecure little boy. And my friends continued to change, as I continued to try and find my place. Until I found myself hanging out with friends who smoked cigarettes. And tobacco, Nicotiene, EXACTLY like the JUULs and Vapes that a lot of you are either smoking now, or will be pressured to smoke soon, was the very first chemical that went into my blood stream. And I was a drug addict right then and there.
And what I mean by this, is first of all, Addiction is NOT about drugs. Drugs are a SYMPTOM of addiction. Addiction is about escape. Its about avoiding, and coping in unhealthy ways. I hated cigarettes, I hated the smell, I hated the way my parents chain smoked Marlboro Reds all the God Damn time, and the way it made their voices sound. It actually embarrassed me when my friends would see me with my dad and he was smoking a cig. But when I found myself with friends who were smoking, why, it had a whole new allure to it. Now it was cool, now it is something that I was interested in. People like me now. I fit in. I’m one of them. Now when I’m smoking, it made me sick as shit, but it gave me a head change and I don’t have to go on trying to fit in, I have found my place. I have now bonded with this chemical and it is going to give me all the relief that I need. I no longer have to worry about if we’re going to move again, or if I’m changing schools. I don’t have to worry about how good looking I am, or if I’m good enough. All I have to do is take a drag and let this chemical do it’s work. But what I didn’t know at the time, is that, when I turn to chemicals to escape, when I turn to chemicals for relief- When I Depend on a chemical, Ill always be chemical dependent. And that what I was doing to my still developing brain- when I’m supposed to be learning to cope, and to deal like you all are now, is that I was Stunting my emotional development. I was stunting my natural maturation process. Because I crossed that line, into the chemical world, not only was I constantly obsessed with the next cigarette, or the next buzz, as I would progress on from there to alcohol, weed, pills, and ultimately heroin- But I had stopped my emotional growth right then and there. I believe this is something called “arrested development”. And I remember vividly, when I actually took on that first cigarette, it was almost like the Angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other- it was one of those pivotal moments in my life, where I made a very terrible decision. I made my first real compromise. I sold myself out. I went against my values, and my beliefs, for the sake of some instant gratification. And Although, when I took my first pull off of that smoke, yes, it did give me a head change, but it also gave me a very negative heart change. Like I had just done something horribly wrong. And that was my first domino that fall so to speak. And on from there, I lived my life constantly in search of some kind of chemical solution to every single problem that I ever faced. One was never enough. Tobacco wasn’t enough. Alcohol, nope. Pills, nope. I always had to have more, because I was chasing something that wasn’t ever really there to begin with. A solution. An answer. And it wasn’t long after that that I was a convicted felon, a crack head, and ultimately a homeless strung out Heroin addict. All because I had to “Fit in” I had to be accepted. I had to have that Instant Gratification and feel validated. So I want you all to really think about your lives. I want you to remember why you raised your hand. Your heart was pricked when I asked you if you had a dream, and I could see the light in your faces as you imagined what a Beautiful Life that lies ahead for you could look like. And I know that I may not know exactly what types of pressures you may be facing, or what your home life looks like. But I do know this for sure. You can give up everything for one thing, or you can give up one thing and have everything your heart desires. To thine ownself be true. Focus on your dream, remember why you raised your hand. That is something that means more to you than any Acceptance ever will. Its your dream. Protect it. You are far too precious to watch you die, in the pursuit of something that isn’t even real. We believe in you, I believe in you. Make good choices, and never sacrifice your heart, your dreams, or your goals, for something that seems “so important right now” because I promise you, Its probably not gonna matter a year from now.
And I truly believe that they feel that shit.