I collected myself after my little bonfire ceremony, and headed back to my room for some coffee. I immediately hit my knees in my room and leaned against my bed to pray. I was not asking for a single thing. In spite of everything that had happened in my life, especially recently, I was grateful. I was making sure that God knew that. Maybe I am/was sicker than most, maybe its normal, maybe it isn’t, but in spite of everything that had transpired in my life over the last couple years- in this moment I was grateful. I knew that I was safe, and was in the midst of healing. I could feel it. And no matter what it took to get here, no matter how ugly the past was, it brought me to this exact moment. Kneeling against my bed in a rehab center thanking my creator. I knew that my journey was again just beginning, but I also knew that now, I would have a shot. I was still in the game. I didn’t deserve to be. Truth be told, looking back on all of my life, its miraculous that I am still alive quite frankly. And that meant I had a chance. This would be chance # 48,397 or some shit. God has been gracious to me. This much I know.
I finished up my prayer, got myself together, poured a cup of coffee and headed on over to the main house of the center. As I was making my way in through the screened in porch, I passed a friend of mine that I had made there. We were both finishing up a smoke, and I decided to share with him my little ceremony at the fire bit, the burning of my fears. He took a drag off of his cigarette, blew it out, and then looked at me quizzically, “what do you have to be afraid of, Herb?” I then gave him a short list, but a list of some of the more significant fears that I had. “Do you have any evidence of this?” Was his only response. And in that moment, I was provided such tremendous confirmation that I had indeed let those fears go. His response, although simple and direct, really worked its way into my mind and stuck. And the timing was perfect because I had just “cleared so much space” in my mind and heart, that now my friend’s simple basic rationale had plenty of room to sow. He had just planted a very simple seed in my mind. When the student is ready, the teacher appears indeed.
The following weeks were intense. Coming off of the powerful weeks before, and event next to the bonfire I was hungry for more. Groups, Groups, Groups. I had already filled up one entire notebook, and was now working on filling up the second. Life was like I was seeing in color for the first time. I was able to really absorb so many things now. I honestly believe that things we carry around in our minds, even subconsciously, take up physical and real space. It’s as if I had just marked all as read, sent to the trash can icon, and then proceeded to “empty trash bin”. My ears were open. Towards the end of the week, as we were on a break between groups Krystal pulled me aside to check in for a minute. She asked me a very simple question, arbitrary it would seem. “So, how are you feeling, Herb.” I didn’t answer the question directly at first, but proceeded to tell her about the bonfire, forgiveness, and my prayer at my bed instead. She followed along as I told her all about it in pretty specific detail, and then she asked me again, but this time, She included the word “Now”. “So, Herb, how are you feeling, now?” She insisted. And I took a moment to formulate an answer that could possibly encapsulate how I was actually feeling. “Naked.” Was my response. Just that one word at first. And then I went on to elaborate.
What I meant when I said that I had felt naked was that for the first time ever, I finally felt fully seen. I had laid it all out on the table for full examination, “warts and all” as they say. All the good parts, and all the ugly parts. Full blown, hold nothing back real life vulnerability. I felt validated and liberated. It’s almost like for the first time in my entire life, someone was actually willing to listen to the full story, but no, for the first time in my entire history, I was ready to let it be heard. It was very validating to me, I knew that I wasn’t just some victim. It was so much more than just “I have had a rough life.” I had witnessed, experienced, and felt so many things that impacted and flat out changed me on so many levels. But I had always been scared to share them all in detail for many reasons. The top reasons that came to mind were; no one would care enough to hear it all, and someone would tell me that it wasn’t that bad. I was so used to dealing with fake and inadequate friends throughout my life that I kinda of just developed the mentality that “No one cares anyways, and those who do listen can’t be trusted with the information I am going to share with them, so whats the use?” Most people would probably just tell me to suck it up, or to man up anyways.
So there I stood, standing next to my therapist in a treatment center. January of 2023 feeling naked as a Jay bird, having finally found a safe place after all of these years to unload all of the horrific, heartbreaking, scary, joyous, happy, vulnerable secret places of mine that I had been forced to hide in those dusty old boxes for all these years. I had just shared some things with this lady that I had never had the courage, or ability to share with someone in her profession in my entire life time. I felt visible. I felt seen. I felt heard. I felt like someone finally understood me. I felt light as a feather. It hadn’t even occurred to me to even consider what this therapist of mine might be thinking about me, after all of the shit I had just unloaded on her, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t care.
I knew in that moment, and in the days following why I had felt invisible for all of those years going back to child hood. I had somehow, in the process of all this therapy shit gained some priceless perspective on my life. The past had in fact changed. I had a new and profound understanding of myself. I could see me. I could see myself. And the reason why I had always felt so invisible, was because I was essentially trained to be invisible. Kids are to be “seen and not heard” philosophy shit, except I never felt seen or heard. I never, until the last 7 or so years even knew of a human being that I could fully trust enough with the kind of shit I had to share. I was trained to lie to CPS, I was taught to shut the fuck up or I’ll give you something to cry about, I was constantly shuffled around like an unwanted dog, I was totally invalidated and denied the very few times I did try to speak up for myself, I was violated, I was used, I was beaten, and I was made to feel so insignificant for so much of my life. This is not a victim stance at all, and if anyone thinks that I would be happy to recommend a therapist for you, I think you might need one. This is factual hard data of my life. What I have learned throughout all of this, is that how we speak to our children, how we validate or invalidate them, how we build them up or tear them down, becomes their image and their inner voice. If someone grows up feeling invisible, and unheard, there is a very real chance that they will carry that with them for a very long time.
Because I never had the opportunity to fully unload all of the shit that was making me who I was, I carried it around with me, in those dusty old boxes. I had that shit inside of me for so long that it had become my Identity. It was like every where I went I had those words tattooed all over me: Loser, failure, molested, shame, drug addict, white trash, insignificant. And when I had gotten clean and wrote the first book I had received some recognition for the first time in my life, so I then latched on to that identity. I was things. I was labels. I had no fucking clue who I really was or what I was capable of. I just shape shifted through life trying to make it as best I could and I was always so raw from dragging it all with me, that it ate me alive.
I should have done this first. I should have done the treatment thing first, and gotten this portion of my life out first. But it wasn’t an option for me at the time. All of this sensitive and vulnerable shit that I have shared with you all, and with my therapist is the “Why”. They are the things, events, traumas, and driving forces that took me to drug addiction to begin with. I have so many answers to questions I didn’t know I needed to ask. I hope this is all making sense, because I can see it all right now.
I was dealt a really shitty hand. My life was truly awful for a very long time. I have been beaten, molested, addicted, robbed at gun point, jailed, abandoned, homeless, neglected, and violated on many different levels over the course of about 30 years. There was a time when my only meals came out of garbage cans. And I am here to tell you today, that those things are not who I am. I am here to tell myself, that those things are not who I am. I am not what has happened to me, I am what I do about it. I am a survivor. And so are you! And likewise, your pains, your traumas, your past, your secret places are not who you are. Those things do not define you. You are so much more than the wounds that you carry.
Life can be so very cruel, and is to so many people out there. It can chew us up, and turn us into people we swore we would never become. Just because I have forgiven myself, and I have gained new perspective on my life, does not mean that I get some kind of free pass in this world. Just like my past is not an excuse, enlightenment is not an automatic pardon. There will still be people out there who don’t like me or want me around, and that’s okay. Because for the first time in a very long time, I want me around, and I like me.
I have stumbled into something over the last month and a half here, in my life. And what I have stumbled into, is self awareness. This is something that I am not going to relinquish without a fight. If you look at some of our great minds throughout history; those with seemingly infinite practical wisdom, they all have something in common: Self Awareness. I believe that the harder we can all work on ourselves, the better this world will get.
It’s interesting to me, when I had had my profound spiritual experience at the great banquet, I was blown away. But I was blown away at the magnitude of God, and during this time of spiritual growth, I was adding something to my life, and being accepted for just who I was, in God’s eyes. And during this time of therapy and treatment, I was subtracting, I was reducing myself, down to the barest of minimums. I was examining exactly who I was and what exactly made me the ways that I am. I got naked. I got vulnerable, I spoke my core truths. I peeled those layers back one by one, with the guidance of a professional and It was the greatest thing I have ever done for myself.
It was the first time in my entire Life that I had felt fully and totally visible.
I understood myself, only after I destroyed myself. And it was in the process of putting myself back together, that I discovered who I really was.
I thought that she was going to judge me at first, when I started the whole treatment journey. But as I was preparing to leave that place, she pulled me aside once more, and simply said to me, “Herb, it was an honor to hear your story.”
John 13: 7- Jesus replied, “you may not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
I may not have done what you’ve done, or been where you’ve been, but at one point or another I have felt what you’ve felt.