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Double Jeopardy

I truly believe that Judgement, Gossip, and Comparison are some of the most destructive poisons pumping through our society’s bloodstream today.

While going about my morning today, I had the news on in the back ground, as I often do. It’s mostly just for back ground noise, but sometimes there are a few segments that catch my attention. Today as I was working with a few different families a segment popped up on the screen of three different talking heads on the screen casually and very respectfully discussing the recent topic of Micheal Vick. For those of you who do not know, Mr. Vick was once a very amazing athlete and Quarterback in the NFL. Very similar to the skill sets and approach to the game that now Ravens QB Lamar Jackson possesses. He was very promising and dazzling to watch. But Vick’s career was cut short as he was convicted on some pretty heinous charges of dog fighting and torturing animals. I am in no way shape or form condoning what Mr. Vick did. I am the truest of animal lovers and I think what he did was absolutely disgusting and criminal. This blog post is NOT about Mike Vick. It just so happens that the segment that got my mind’s gears going this morning was about him. Nearly 500,000 people have signed some online petition disputing his “Honorary Pro Bowl Captain” Selection. Which is the people’s right to do so. I personally try to avoid taking stances on certain topics, I always try my best to stay Switzerland as best I can and stay in my lane. But what I did find interesting, and what led me to wanting to write this entry is; He was tried, convicted, sentenced, and served his time. Why do people continuously debate these kinds of things long after Due Process has been carried out? I understand that this is some philosophical bullshit, and isn’t going to change a thing, but then I got to thinking a little more, and this is the exact type of scenario that is plaguing our justice systems, our re entry programs, our recovery communities, and society at large.

I have social media, that’s no big deal. Everyone does. So we see everything. Information is so readily available today that often times we receive the info faster than we can even process it. I am guilty of this. Don’t ever think that just because I write about “this” or “that” that I am EVER implying or insinuating that I myself am perfect. Because I am not. I am just as flawed and fucked up as the next person. We are all neither perfectly good nor perfectly bad, but just stitched together by good intentions. And we see each other through little pin holes of information, whether the info is good or bad, we see it. People share it, they tag it, they IMessage it to one another. You know how it works. And what’s funny to me, is the level of comparison that we all assume in this day and age. “Look at him, look at her, what a scumbag, blah blah blah.” Or “look at him, look at her, I wish I was like them, I am not good enough.” We compare so much of our own joy and blessings away all the time. We also compare our own wrongs, or sin, or shortcomings away too- because “they’re not as bad as, in this case, Mike Vick’s.” For some sick and twisted reason people love to comment on other’s arrest’s on the NWI times, or some dumb ass gossip page because, I believe it makes them feel better about themselves. Why look at my own faults, when I can just judge someone else for a quick little ego boost? “Look at this junkie piece of shit right here, lock him up!!! (takes a swig of scotch and neglects his son) “what a Loser getting another DUI!!! what a piece of crap!!!( gambles the family’s Christmas money away at the casino)  “Look at this disgusting sex offender on here, what a waste of air, LOCK HIM UP!!!(Cheats on his wife) You get the idea, but this isn’t a post on moral fiber or some kind of sermon from the mount as it were. In fact, I don’t even know why I included that last little section, but I did, and it’s staying. I like to go down Rabbit Holes when I talk and Write, it’s just me sharing my true heart and thoughts on things. But anyways the point I was making is that we JUDGE and COMPARE way too fucking much man. Thank you for reading this, but even you, reader, are not perfect. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re not, and I think you know that. We have a serious Sympathy and Empathy deficit in our society today. I see it more and more thanks to social media. I believe as I write this, that the best was to destroy something precious is to compare it to something else. I believe that comparison is the ultimate thief of joy and the feeder of egos. And gossip is missile in which it is propelled. I really hope that we all remember each other in our prayers as much as we do in our gossip.

But really, the point that I am thinking about, and what I had aimed to make this entry about to begin with- as it is titled Double Jeopardy is; How can we as a society and government continuously punish and re punish those who have been through their Due Process? This one still makes my head hurt to this day.

Department of Corrections. D.O.C. For those of you who don’t know, this is where people go when your demands and wishes of “Lock them up!” are fulfilled. Now, before I get going down this rabbit hole, PLEASE do not get me wrong: THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO BELONG IN PRISON AND NEED LIFE TIME RESTRICTIONS ON MANY THINGS, AND PRIVILEGES. I am an addiction survivor, I am a person affected by life long trauma and addiction in my family. I now do my part day in and day out to help those who struggle with addiction, my stance as I write is one of this. I write as it pertains to my experiences personally, and the experiences I witness in my life. So there is my disclaimer, and on we go. I think that the systems we have in place are full of gaps. I think that our systems, although finally becoming more and more progressive, Like ours here in Porter County- which I applaud constantly, still have some ways to go. I would imagine that back in the day, people used to have faith in our justice system, our dept. of corrections. I would imagine, that once upon a time, people used to believe that someone does something bad, and they got sent to D.O.C, or Prison to serve their time, pay their debt to society, and be rehabilitated. I would imagine that once upon a time, that their debt, and their time was in fact what they owed as a way to right their wrongs. Now, I know that there would still be work to be done by the individual them self to right any interpersonal wrong doings and make ammends and atonement with the people they had directly negatively affected by their wrong doings. That I understand. That’s part of the recovery process, not just from drugs, but from all short comings and failings. We have to set matters straight. I get that. But what really frustrates me, going back to the opening of this entry, is that once the debt is paid, once the time has been served, once the Correction- as in Dept. of Correction has been handed out, why do we as a society, we employers, we the people take it upon ourselves to continuously persecute and ostracize those whose debt has been paid, time served and correction given? (*Oh, and by the way, I know that that was a really long English mess, with punctuation and grammatical errors galore, so if you’re one of those who like to criticize my writings by the editing, please politely go read something else. I see your comments on sites about how I can’t edit or write Professionally. I am not James Patterson dude, I have a GED and used to eat out of trash cans, get off my back)  But what I am getting at, is that I always see all this stuff online about how people should just “lock that Thieving Junkie up”- but he/she was only a thief because they were strung out on drugs. And what that tells me, is that you believe that that person belongs in prison. I understand that, so you believe that the DOC is the correct spot for someone to go when they break the law. I get it. So that tells me that you believe that prison is the solution, that it is appropriate for a drug addict, thief, criminal to go there as a result of their wrong doings. Ok. And I believe that we as a society would agree with that. I have been to jail, many times actually. I got clean in jail and I believe it saved my life. I am actually grateful that I served the time I did for without it, I would probably be dead. So, If we have faith in our system, our law enforcement, our judges, our juries, our justice, Then why are we so scared to have faith in the outcomes that it provides? Why are we so apprehensive to show grace, understanding, and to show compassion to someone who is a “convicted felon” or a “former drug addict”? I see it all the damn time. I try my best to instill hope to some of these kids that I talk to that have records and just cannot find a job, or get food stamps, or rent an apartment because they have a record. Its bullshit. I have talked to some of the most humble, driven people; They served their time, and even above and beyond that- they did therapeutic community- an 18 month intensive drug program inside a jail or prison, they got baptized, they did I.O.P while inside, which is Intensive Outpatient Program(frequently known as CD&A- Chemical dependency and addiction), they took anger management classes, parenting classes, they learned to cut hair, they were not just idle lifting weights and watching TV while incarcerated. They were trying their absolute best while away to get their life back in order, and we had faith in our system that that person belonged there. We wanted them locked up in the department of CORRECTION. We knew that that was the answer. But yet, when that same “former addict”, “Convicted Felon” came into our office with a borrowed buttoned down shirt, and jeans with his application in hand, a resume that the half way house helped him write up and all of his certificates from inside that he had from the CORRECTIVE programs that he completed- knowing you were going to run his back ground check. You denied him. Because of his background. But what you don’t know is his story. You don’t know that he was given heroin at 4 years old to keep him from crying so his parents could tweak out on crack in the bathroom. You don’t know that He really really wants to turn his life around and if only given the chance, would become your most beloved worker. He will never be late, he will always work his ass off. He will come early and stay late because he is just so grateful that someone finally after all these years gave him a shot to be somebody. You don’t know the impact you could be making on someone’s life right now, just by looking past some drug charges. So what? he stole someone’s lawnmower to get high. big fucking deal. If he steals yours, guess what? he’s going back to jail. so what have you really got to lose? Jeez. This part of the re entry and recovery journey makes me so sad. And then you combine all of that with probation fees, and court costs, and house arrest costs etc.. and now were staring at an insurmountable task. The only job I can lock down is about $8.00 an hour before taxes, my rent at the halfway house is 500$ a month, probation is 50$ my fines and fees are in the thousands, I need a car and a phone and some clothes. Fuck man, what’s the use? I might as well get high, at least I’ll enjoy my freedom until I fail a drug test and be sent back inside. And round and round we go…. Now I know. I know. Save your breath, I can hear some of y’all’s input now: “do the crime do the time” “Don’t do drugs and this wont happen.” or my personal favorite, that I say all the time, “we can choose the sin, but we cannot choose the consequences.” I understand all of this, and I agree with you. That’s not my point. My point is that if we believe in justice, if we believe that people should sit in jail, or prison, and serve their time and pay their debt. If we believe in our justice system at all, then we need to believe that when people are released and given another chance, that justice has been served. It is not our responsibility to constantly punish someone who has had a rough go of things. It is not our responsibility to constantly keep pushing someone down who is trying to rise back up. it is, however, your right to deny someone a job or opportunity because they don’t pass some back ground check. I totally get that and respect it.

But what about this? what if, back ground checks were filtered? What if, the person doing the back ground check had to answer some basic questions and basically summarize the position that they were screening for? For instance, I am a recovering heroin and cocaine addict. I have drug charges. I have needle possession charges. Not that I would, because I love my life and recovery today, but let’s just say that I do- Walk in and apply to a walgreens, or CVS or whatever. I should probably be denied, because of the access to chemicals that I could potentially gain if the desire arose and I wanted to steal some pills. But should I be denied a job selling insurance? or Selling cars? Or a multitude of other professional lucrative businesses because 5 years ago I committed a felony to try and feed my addiction? I don’t think so. Should a sex offender be allowed to work at a job where children are present? absolutely not. Just like I shouldn’t be allowed to work around chemicals, they shouldn’t be allowed to work around kids. But should they be given a chance to earn an honest living some where that actually provides them with some renewed purpose? absolutely yes. I think that that is one of the biggest cornerstones of someone finding a better life, of finding recovery, and of getting back on their feet to become a better person. PURPOSE. Every one that I know, that has anything like successful recovery, they all have one thing in common: They have all found something that they’re passionate about. They have all found something that drives them. And usually it’s because they found themselves in a position where a gracious and sympathetic person gave them a chance. a second chance. In my case, a 3,758th chance. It’s so much bigger than “do drugs do time”. it’s so much bigger than “lock them up”. God forbid, if your loved one fell into a bad way and got addicted to drugs, you would do anything and everything you could to help them. And more so, you would hope that someone would show them the same patience, pity, and tolerance that you yourself would. They would need a chance to prove themselves too. They would need someone to show them grace and mercy. And if it were my appointment, I would do so, but I have been there. I know how hard it is to get back on my feet after my life has been burned to the ground. I know how hard it is to find a job with a felony on my back ground. But my life today is NOT that of a felon. It is NOT that of a drug addict. It is that of a married man, a father, a home owner, an author. And it is literally all because a few people believed in me and gave me a chance to do some good, and I stumbled into my purpose. It’s time to stop Judging. Its time to stop comparing. Its time to stop the bullshit gossip. No one is better than anyone. No one deserves to have their name or character dragged through the mud who is making the best effort that they can. The Double Jeopardy system and mindset that we have in our society today is bullshit. It has gone on far too long and it is one of the many reasons why it is so hard to recover in america today. So i challenge you, if your in charge of a hiring dept or a small business owner somewhere, to look at things differently. Instead of thinking about what this “former drug addict” “convicted felon” person can do TO you- think about what you can do FOR them. If we really go out of our way to do something kind for someone, if we truly do whatever we can to make this world, this week, this day just a little brighter for someone else- I am telling you from experience, that is what life is all about and we will reap many benefits.

We cannot judge someone just because they sin DIFFERENTLY THAN WE DO. We all make mistakes. we have all done things that we’re not proud of. And we have all felt what it feels like to need to be forgiven. We have all experienced Grace in one form another. My question for you is: What is your response to Grace? We live differently when we know we have been forgiven. Be the reason that someone lives differently today. Live graciously.

I’ll take: “Why can’t we all just understand that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes and it’s our responsibility to show the goodness in this world by how we live and treat each other” For $2,000, Please, Alex.

 

End rant.

 

The Elephant

 

I don’t even know where to begin with this. I don’t even know who I’m writing to anymore. I like to pretend and believe in my imagination that I’m still writing to you as my heart remembers- the young, beautiful soul, so full of innocence and wonder. So full of purpose, potential, and grace. My person. But, sadly I know that most likely that is not the reality today. It absolutely kills me from the inside out, watching your life in my minds eye. Watching it all unfold. Slowly at times, and with blinding white light speed at others. It breaks my heart to think about and imagine where you might be today, in this minute, at this exact second. Where are you? Who are you with? Why wont you call? Did I do something wrong? What can I do to fix you? I hope you are safe and warm. I hope that you’re at least with someone who will protect you like I would. It’s getting cold outside and the thought of you having to sleep outside or in an abandoned building makes me so sick to my stomach. I miss you. I think about you often. Not a moment goes by that I don’t think of you, that I don’t feel your absence. I can still hear you laugh. I see you everywhere. I always think of the happy times that we all shared as a family. Your twelfth Christmas, your fifteenth birthday. Your first home run. When you made the cheer leading squad. When you got your big promotion. There was so much pride, glory, and achievement in your eyes. God I wish you could see you the way that I see you. The way that we all do. I can still hear your voice when the family all gets together. Thanksgiving I could have sworn that you were right here with us, and to me, you were. I could hear your laugh, and feel your presence. But that’s just wishful thinking I guess. I don’t know even know who I’m writing to anymore, and why I’m doing this, but I said that already. I guess this just kinda helps me get it out, and expose my feelings to paper. I suppose its cathartic for me. Where are you? This whole Why/who/where question drives me crazy constantly. It’s like this bottomless abyss in my stomach. Every time an ambulance goes by I get the butterflies, thinking that its you in the back that they’re trying to save. I carry Narcan now, and I got my certification to use it, just in case I come across someone, just in case I find you. I guess I am doing a little better though, I haven’t called a morgue or a county jail in three days now. So I guess I have been having a few good days. I cannot help but feel like I did something wrong. Did I? Was it me? Just come on home so we can work it out. I’ll take you out to lunch and we can just chat. I don’t know why I’m writing this, or who I’m even writing to, but I have already said that. I tried your phone, but it was off again, you must be out of minutes, why don’t you meet me somewhere and Ill put some money on your phone? I sure would like to see your face. Don’t worry about the wedding ring by the way, One more payment and I’ll have it back from the pawn shop, they’re even going to clean it for me, so that’s good I guess. I’m trying to remember what it was that you were wearing the last time I saw you, was it that blue and green hoodie that you got for Christmas? The Dog sure does miss you too, and you should see what we’ve done with the patio. It sure brings the back yard to life. Sure would be nice to have a bar be cue with you someday. You should come on back for a bar be cue, I can do your laundry and you can shower and see everyone. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’m sure we would all love to see you. What happened? What are you running from? I know I have always tried to understand this whole drug thing, I have even gone to some Al-Anon meetings and counseling. I just don’t get it, but I’m trying to. Please forgive me, I know that I have done some things that hurt you, and believe me if I could go back in time and change them I would. I have even prayed to God, and I know you don’t like when I mention God, but I have prayed that we could trade places, I’ll take your pain and whatever it is you’re going through on to myself. What is the pain you’re feeling? What happened in your sweet little heart that made you this way? My God, did someone hurt you? Did someone touch you? Was it the divorce? I am trying so hard to wrap my head around what in the world could have made you this way, and I promise to you I’ll do whatever it takes to help you heal. Just come home. Who are you with? Are you at least eating? I have been watching the news on this heroin and meth epidemic that’s going on and I know that there have been some bad doses going around and it’s really bad stuff, and I know that you said the last time you were here that you only do enough so that you don’t get dope sick, so I sure hope that that’s still the case. That you’re just doing a little bit here and there so you’re not in pain. I hope that you’re not dealing or doing anything too foolish to be sent to prison for too long, but, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I also hope that you will eventually get picked up by the police for something minor and be jailed, so at least I’ll know where you are and you’re safe and not on the streets. It’s getting really cold outside and at least I would know that you had “3 hots and a cot” as you always explained it. I just tried your phone again, and its still off. I hope you didn’t trade it for drugs. Come on home, I’ll put some time on your phone and wash your clothes. I promise I wont even mention rehab. You can have your room downstairs like always, and Ill come in and check on you throughout the night. I’ve got some of my chicken soup in the fridge I can warm up for you. We made cookies last night while putting up the tree and then we watched the wizard of oz. It just doesn’t feel like home or family without you here. There’s an elephant in the room now. And we all try our best to ignore it, but we all feel it. At least give us a call and let us know that you’re okay. Oh who I am kidding, this isn’t even going to you, but I continue to write these little letters and notes so that one day I hope, you can read them after you get better. How can I help you get better? I don’t even know whats wrong. No there’s nothing wrong “with” you, I didn’t mean it like that. Oh there I go again with another jouska with you- I have these back and forth conversations with you in my head constantly. Pacing the floors, walking all over, talking with you all the time. I see you every where. This house just seems so big and empty now a days. The doctor has been stepping me down on my medication more and more and says that I am doing so much better lately! I miss you. I’m sorry if I ever embarrassed you, or hurt you in any way. I put the blame on myself so much for what is going on in your life, and then other times its like you don’t even exist. No, c’mon now, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just… so hard to deal with, so hard to explain. I can either be completely absorbed by all of this that’s going on in your life, even with you not here, or just, kind of, be completely numbed by it all. I often times cycle back and forth between the two throughout the day. I love this picture of you in my shadow box here in the living room. You would really like what we have done with the place. You should come by and see it sometime. Ill make you something to eat and do your laundry. I promise I wont mention rehab once. Deal? Who am I kidding. Where are you? Who are you with? Have you eaten? If you come by and say hello Ill give you some money, I don’t want you to be sick. Please call. Ugh. We went bowling the other night at the place you like. It was fun. I had pizza. remember when we used to go there all the time, but you would get so mad when you would lose and swear you never wanted to go back, but then that was the first thing you wanted to do next weekend? haha. I miss those days. I remember when you got stung by all those bees and we were chasing them around the house getting stung left and right but you were safe in the bathroom with a towel under the door so they couldn’t get to you. I would protect you from anything, please come home, Ill protect you from this. You can go through it right here on the couch, Ill call off work and take care of you. I promise. No judgement what so ever. You have my word. I never did judge you by the way, I just didn’t understand. This whole addiction thing is foreign to me, I was trying my best. I’m sorry for when I cussed at you and said you were throwing your life away. You still have so much life ahead of you. I wish you could see that right now but this fucking poison has you under it’s control. I know, I cussed I’m sorry. It just isn’t fair what this stuff has done to you. I know you just wanted to have fun, and fit in. I don’t know if you know this or not, but I took some puffs of grass back in high school. Bet you didn’t think I was that cool huh? haha. I know that times are different now, but I just don’t get how something that started off as a good time and celebrating your youth with your friends has turned into this. Speaking of friends, I don’t know if you know this, but remember Johnny Doe? Yeah you do, the one from your baseball team, well anyways, he passed away from an overdose a couple weeks ago. I saw his mother at the Grocery Store and she just did not seem well. Poor thing. At least you’re still here, and when you’re still here there’s hope right? You are still here right? Please call. Just a couple minutes, Just let me know you’re okay. I know that You said you had a job interview a while back and you needed some money for clothes for the interview, Did you get the job? What clothes did you pick out? I’m sure you nailed it! you have always been so smart. I know you probably don’t believe me, but even now, I am so proud of you. I may not be proud of the situation you’re in, but I am always proud that you’re mine. And I always will be. I love looking back at all of the pictures I always took. Where I nearly had to bribe you with treats to smile in. This one here at the lake is my favorite right now. That was such a special day. The weather was perfect. Maybe we will go back out to the lake one day? Your phone is still off. Maybe you just have bad service or something I’m sure that’s it. I have been really reading a lot of books on addiction and following a lot of people in the news and it sounds like stuff is getting really bad out there, but I know that you would never get into anything too bad, you have always had a decent head on your shoulders. I hear about girls selling their bodies for drugs, and becoming prostitutes over their addiction and I saw a story the other day about a couple young men that got shot over a bad drug deal and they died. I was really scared when I was reading the article releasing their names, but it wasn’t you. You would never do anything like that. You told me, you just do enough to not get sick right? right? Please just come home. I wont talk about rehab at all, I promise. Just come home. Let me feed you and wash your clothes. You can get a good night’s sleep and Ill give you some money. I’m sure we would all love to see you. UGH! An ambulance was just going by. I hate when that happens, I always think that it’s you in the back that they’re trying to save. Makes me sick to my stomach. Anyways, oh hang on the phones ringing maybe its you….

Hos7ages

“Active addicts don’t form relationships, they take Hostages.” – Herb Stepherson, “Junkbox Diaries~ a Day in the Life of a Heroin Addict”

When I first stated pinning this blog, and ultimately the book, I looked at the whole hostages idea from my own personal viewpoint. But now that some years have separated me from my active addiction, and now that I am currently doing what I do in my profession I see this idea differently still.

The greatest lie that I ever told was that “I was only hurting myself. It’s my body, my choice, and I’ll do drugs if I want to. I am only hurting me.” What a load of bullshit…

I used to think that drug addiction was ‘about’ drugs. I used to think that if a person, myself suffered from addiction, then it meant that they/ I “had a drug problem”. I don’t think that’s the case today. I believe that a person with addiction issues has an “escape/avoidance/coping problem, and a temporary drug ‘solution'”. I’m an addict and my problem is Herb. I use to change the way that I feel- mentally, emotionally, or physically. I use to increase pleasure or decrease pain. Sometimes both. I use to turn it off. I use to run away from any little insignificance or massive tragedy that life throws my way. I use because I don’t know how to deal with or enjoy life as is.

I was on the phone with a family the other day and the topic of “Rock Bottom” came up, and I asked the gentleman if he really believed in Rock Bottom. And that is how the inspiration for this blog entry hit my brain. If a drug addict uses drugs and alcohol to avoid, escape, and run from life and it’s consequences, how can rock bottom be enough to stop us? Isn’t Rock Bottom just a fancy exaggeration of “Negative Consequences”? I Find this topic very interesting. I personally experienced a bottom, yes. A “Physical Bottom” as I often refer to it. But was it Really Rock Bottom? And the answer for me, is no. I know without question that if I pick up today, than it is only a matter of time before things get far worse than they ever were before. The consequences greater and the sickness and things I’m willing to do to feed my action with get more and more extreme. I bottomed out clean. With 6 months laying in a jail cell without access to chemicals to numb the crime scene in my head. I was forced to feel. I was forced to process and experience everything that I had run from for so long. It was horrible, it was brutal, it made me squirm to think of the things I had done to my loved ones. The things I had done to myself, the risks I had taken and the situations I had put myself in. But what makes me squirm even now, as I write this, are the things that I made my Hostages feel and experience, in slow motion, over years and years as they watched the trainwreck of my life unfold one horrible day at a time.

To love a drug addict must be incredibly tough. Especially for the “Normal”, every day, “Good People” who have never done a drug in their lives. You see, although we addicts are destroying our lives with chemicals, one day at a time- we still have this “luxury”, or crutch if you will- of ingesting chemicals by whatever means to deal with the wreckage that were causing. Our Hostages don’t. They have learned to cope and handle and deal with life, as it comes for them. Even if were forcing them through hell on a daily basis.

This is why I have said for years now, that the families, the loved ones of the addicts feel the bottoms ( and yes I say bottoms plural because if you’re an addict or the loved on of an addict you know that it’s not just one horrible debacle, but a series of terrible days and nights as a result of the drug addiction running amuck) WAY before the addict does. Because we have this “Magic Pill”, or powder, or liquid, etc… to just numb the sting of the most recent bottom off of us. It’s a very interesting cycle, and the cycle actually becomes our normal. It becomes our lifestyle. And we get used to it over time. I use to change the way that I feel, bad things happen- Jail, ODs, loss of jobs, car wrecks, etc… and because I have become so habituated to this cycle, the only means of coping that I possess to deal with the pain, shame, embarrassment, etc.. is to run to the very chemical that caused the consequence itself. A therapist I saw for a while referred to it as “trauma repetition”. That because of the Traumas we endure as children, and the trauma we self inflict, we constantly and subconsciously almost pursue the art of being hurt, staying wounded, we chase the pain because it’s what were used to. Very interesting isn’t it? I think so. But our loved ones don’t. Our ‘Hostages’ do not. They do not have the ‘luxury’ of just popping a pill or shooting some dope to make it all go away. They’re typically too busy stressing and worrying themselves sick, too busy praying and calling around about us, too busy enduring our bottoms for us.

Case in point- I had a conversation with a mother that told me that she actually set alarms on her phone for: 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, and 6:00 am EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. And these alarms were set so that she could get up and head to her loved one’s room to check their breathing and make sure they were still alive. I know my parents used to do this as well.  Or the parents and siblings of loved ones who reach out to me and tell me all of the horror stories that come along with the nightmare of addiction: The truck wrapped around an Oak Tree, having to drive around the ghettos of Chicago looking for their son or daughter all hours of the night, going to support groups to find ways to cope with their children’s addictions. And one of the saddest things I’ve heard: Hearing an ambulance go by and getting physically sick to their stomachs wondering if their son or daughter were in the back, and then calling the hospitals and morgues looking for their sweet child’s body. I know that my family endured my bottoms for years. Especially my brother and sister in law and my sweet grama. My brother and sister in law once drove all the way up from Georgia while I was in jail for that 53 weeks and awaiting my fate, just to see me in shackles and before the Judge for what? like 8 minutes? Although it meant the world to me at the time, that was so incredibly unfair of me to put them through, but I was a hostage to my addiction and so were they. Its unspoken, its invisible, but it is Shot through every single family of an addicted loved one to one extent or another. The co dependency, the manipulation, the shame, guilt, fear, hope, and sympathy that is convoluted and constantly consuming us. I’m an addict, I’m the ‘sick’ one, but the families often times are the ones that need the treatment too. it blows my mind to think about. And I can do so in the blink of an eye, all the pain, and trauma, and fear and sleepless nights I put my family through while I was out there “only hurting myself.” UGH. it makes me sick to my stomach. I can just hear the panic and hurt in so many families hearts as I write this… I truly believe that every person who has ever been affected by a loved one’s addiction has some form or degree of PTSD. I can’t even imagine the things that come along with loving an addicted person and watching them slowly deteriorate over time as a result of their using. I only know how to step in and stop it. You see, just as we addicts get stuck in our own cycles of use-bottoms-use-repeat, the families do as well. We as people get used to our environments, our “Normals”, we get used to our relationships and we teach others how to treat us, and vice versa. Just as we addicts get hooked on specific cycles, the families get hooked on the codependency, and manipulation that the addicts provide. We are master manipulators and we tend to instinctively use your love against you. Because our life styles are learned behaviors, we take on the defense mechanisms and survival skills to keep our addiction as the cornerstone of our existence. every thought, emotion, reaction, interaction, and relationship is centered around our using. Even when we’re not in the room. It becomes this giant Elephant in the room no matter the circumstances. God I wish I could accurately express this so that you could understand. But I can see it with my minds eye. every time I looked my parents in the eyes, my grama- I could see their gears turning, I could see their speculation. Their fears. Their hopes that THIS time I was telling the truth. They clung on to every hopeful word and promise, and recoiled from every possible Deception that they could. If you had strapped a lie detector test on me when I was spinning a beautiful web of bullshit to family, It would have read that I was telling the truth, because deep down inside I wanted it to be true. I wanted to actually have a Job interview next week, I truly wanted to be going to rehab- Tomorrow. Deep down inside I didn’t want to be a dope fiend, but I didn’t know how to stop. And they didn’t know how to help me, because we were all so stuck together with memories, history, emotions, and love that we were all kind of interwoven to one another. We were all each other’s vulnerabilities. They were vulnerable to their baby boy, and I was addicted to drugs, and hence vulnerable to myself. God, its sick. And on we continued for years. Constantly stuck on this merry go round cycle of manipulation, promises, bargaining, and let downs. I didn’t wake up every day wondering how I could make my Grama cry, or how I could break my mother’s heart, but I wound up doing both on a regular basis, because it was how I survived, these things were as instinctual to me as breathing is to you. When I wake up every day a hostage to my active addiction, so do you.

Incomprehensible Demoralization

incomprehensible” means difficult or impossible to comprehend or understand. “demoralization” is the process of demoralizing some one. “Demoralizing” means causing the loss of hope or morale.

I have encountered some very ugly, very scary, and very lonely individuals throughout my life. It is no secret that I too have been one of those people. Addiction is one of those things that so many people claim to understand, but unless you have lived it, you have no idea what you’re really explaining. I could write for a million lifetimes and still not cover everything that I have thought and felt throughout my journey. It’s literally like living multiple lives in multiple dimensions. But I try my best, as I felt led to, to write about my experiences. And for some reason this one has been surfacing and resurfacing in my mind…

I have always been what is known today as an Empath. I have always felt people. I have always had a heart for others. I rooted for the underdogs in sports and in Movies. I grew up a child in Georgia, and as all kids in Georgia do, I loved the Atalanta Braves. I remember watching the 90’s Braves teams in the playoffs one year with my dad as they played the Pirates. Now, I don’t really remember the circumstances, but I’m sure it was in our favor, but the manager came out to the mound to pull the pitcher for the Pirates, John Smiley I think was his name- I could be wrong, but that sounds right. And although I was cheering and rooting for the Braves, I remember looking at John’s face on the Television screen and seeing how sad and disappointed he was and I felt his pain. I felt his sadness. And I immediately switched allegiances and started rooting for the Pirates. I have no idea why, maybe because I was like 6 years old and when we’re kids we’re naive, but I did. I also have no idea why I chose to share this with you, but I did. But anyways, the point that I am trying to get to is that I have had this, inexplicable empathy…for everyone. its very strange, its also a priceless gift in my life today. I also cried during “Rudy”. every. single. time I watched it. like 6 months ago even. And Rudy is the single biggest reason I am a Notre Dame fan, to this day. But I digress.

Anyways, the reason I include this little preface to the next portion of my psychobabble, is that I think all of us addicts, no matter how judged, no matter how condemned, no matter how misunderstood we all are- We are all very soft hearted, very vulnerable, very fragile individuals. And because of this, we all get hurt easily, we take longer to heal emotionally, and we tend to endure more and more trauma then most. We also relate to people on deeper levels then we let on, and if you’re anything like me, our gears turn WAY longer than the average “Normie”.

It’s weird to explain this, but if you’re an addict, you certainly understand. It’s like this great riddle of sorts to solve. This whole, “well you’re out here stealing from your grama and family and manipulating people to get heroin, but yet you have this ultra soft heart? Is that what you’re telling me?’ …. Well yeah. It is. Because, once we’re in the grip of active addiction, the life style isn’t intentional. I did’t wake up every day and DECIDE that I was going to rip grama off, or steal a fucking lawnmower. It’s instinctual. Like breathing. I needed my dope, I needed my fix Like we all need air. It’s so very hard to explain, but even though I was living like a scumbag daily, my heart was still very much open to others. And once again, if youre not an addict you probably wont understand.

Even throughout my active addiction, when I was at my lowest, and sleeping on the Red Line or the Blue Line, wandering the streets of Chicago all alone, I always tried my best to save at least 1 or 2 single dollar bills, to hand to other hopeless and lost hurting souls. I thought deep inside of me, that even though I’m out here living the way that I am, doing the things that I’m doing, maybe, just maybe, this one single dollar bill will shine some light into this poor hurting soul’s life and show him or her that someone sees them, that someone acknowledges that they’re there. Once again, I’m not sure why I share these things, or if they even make sense, but I have been thinking alot about this lately so I’m gonna write it. And these open hearted empathetic feelings led me to some of the most heart breaking scenes one could ever imagine. Very closely together I might add.

I had made my way over to Chicago Ave. & Homan yet again. Even after Bud tried to lock me into that little crack shack of his. I had no choice, I was living on instinct. I had to sustain my habit, no matter what the cost. So I did. it was almost like ground hog’s day once again, it was always the same. Hustle, get money, get dope, shit happens, repeat. That much is no secret to anyone who knows what drugs are. And this was just like any other day, maybe I had come up with like 50$ somehow, which was my “try to get to” amount with each run, so I could get a piece of crack as well as some dope to come down and not be sick with. And I had. So my routine stayed right in line. I got to the spot, got my shit, cheeked it, and went on my way. Next came the next challenge, find a fucking place to smoke and get high where 1: no cops will see me and 2: no fellow dope fiends will bother me for a hit, cuz I always said yes unless it was my absolute last hit. So where to go? You would think that I would have these places down pat, and I did, but so did every other junkie on the west side and it was all on a first come first serve basis and they were almost always occupied. And this time it was no different. So I ended up settling for a Dumpster that was enclosed in like a brick horseshoe shaped alcove behind the family dollar right there on Chicago Ave. The squeeze was tight, but I went ahead and tried, barely able to slink between the green iron of the dumpster and the brick wall beside it, and just behind the dumpster was a very small, but manageable spot that I could do my thing at, and, no one could see me. Shit this will work. So on I went. Prepared my stuff and did my thing. Barely through my Crack I hear someone coming, so I had to do my best crack head-weird-ass-mannequin- stance so no one in Chicago could hear me breathe. Hopefully they’re just taking the trash out and they’ll go away. No such luck. Fuck. They’re coming back here. How in the fuck am I going to explain this one? Some white kid standing back behind this dumpster all weirded out? I think I’m going to jail….ugh. Going to jail all cracked out is the worst. Didn’t even get to do my Dope yet. Fuck. But, it wasn’t the cops. As soon as this older black gentleman, in wrags similar to mine appeared around the side of the dumpster, I knew I wasn’t going to Cook County Jail. But what was about to happen? He didn’t even say a word. He saw me and I saw him. He didn’t ask me for a hit, he did’t anything other than give me “head nod” to let me know that we see each other and that we’re both “cool”. And I recall very vividly seeing this pain, fear, and loneliness in his eyes. we were the same. We were both broken people. And then he took his shoes and his socks off. And pulled his pants down just a little and leaned against the brick wall. Holy fuck I’ve gotta get outta here, So I finished my hit and pocketed all of my “kit” to GTFO. And as this man finished up shitting all over the ground inches from where I stood, He bent over and picked up his own socks, to wipe himself with, and then pulled his pants back up and put his socks BACK ON, then his shoes, and as he was squeezing back through the dumpster and brick actually spoke back to me and said something like,”I know white boy, but its all I have”. I was absolutely dumbfounded. No way did I just witness that. And as grossed out and disgusted as I was, It’s fucking weird, although I would never do what he just did, I felt his pain, I felt what he said. I had literally just witnessed someone’s lowest, most vulnerable, secret pain. And I felt that. But it smelled horribly bad and I had to get outta here. I am not sticking around the west side for this shit. So I used my “One day fun pass” to hop on the Kimbal/Homan bus back north toward the dunkin donuts that I picked my food out of from the dumpster each night to find a place to shoot my dope and come down. That was way too fucking weird for me for one day.

I swear to God I can’t make this shit up. But just when I thought my day/life couldn’t have gotten any more bizarre or flat our fucked up it did. I remember getting on the bus and heading back toward Diversey & Milwaukee. “Anywhere but here”. And once I found a seat and was able to somewhat chill, I found myself in some kind of stunned disbelief. What in the actual fuck had I just witnessed? Holy cow what kind of life is this? And although I had a million and one thoughts swirling through my head as anyone on uppers does, I kept coming back to that man behind the dumpster. His eyes. The emptiness. The pitiful sadness. He literally had no other choice than to do what he just did…What kind of life had led him to that very point? I cannot even imagine. I stared out the window of the CTA bus and listened to the voice on the speaker name off the stops until mine came. I got off the bus and made my way toward an alley way next to an old Polish bar that I used frequently. I knew it wouldn’t be occupied. And it wasn’t. As I rolled up my sleeve and did my thing, I couldn’t help but think about that poor man. I finished up and collected my items and made my way back toward the “5 points intersection” I think its where Milwaukee, Central Park, and Diversey all intersect. Night was approaching fast and my mind was completely exhausted. My spirit drained. My body sickly and tired. This was all too much. “I cant continue to do this shit” was probably my most common thought throughout my days. And today was no different. I was tired. I was hungry. I was depleted. I couldn’t even make it to the 5-points, and if I did, what then? Who gives a fuck, I’m just gonna find a bench to sit down. I was completely broken. day in and day out. This was just another shitty day during my shitty ass life. I found myself a cold, hard, wooden and bolts bench to sit down on. And before long, I was nodded out asleep.

I came to- I dont know how long later- with someone sitting next to me. It was cold as shit. Late October or Early November, I think. and Dark. But there was a nearby street light and traffic was still on the move so it couldn’t have been that late. This person sitting next to me is someone I weirdly still think about, someone who I pray for some times, like the man behind the dumpster. I hope they both made it out of their own hells and found life again. This person sitting next to me was a woman. A very old looking, very worn out, very smelly, but also, a very kind woman. She was a prostitute. No, I did not engage with this woman, if that’s what you’re thinking. The reason I know she was is because, weirdly, over the next couple days, this woman became my friend. Almost nightly we would end up sitting on this same fucking bench in the same smelly clothes, worn out from the same lifestyles, and weirdly enough, I actually looked forward to it. I was not threatened by her. And she was not threatened by me. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her. This woman was very sad. She had ZERO teeth, I mean zero. She had these little black almost hole looking stubs in her mouth and she may have weighed about 90 pounds. But the thing-physically- that stood out to me most about her was her right pointer finger. It was black. She was white. I don’t know what could have caused this- some kind of horrible infection like Gangreen im sure, but it actually looked like a beef jerky candy cane. As gross as that sounds, that’s the only way to describe it. It was all shriveled up and had the curl on the end like a candy cane. I have always thought that this woman had injected that “Krocodyl” shit and had contracted some kind of flesh eating bacteria. The thought of this poor woman still makes my heart so sad. And we actually would talk. We would find out ways back to this bench on Central Park, and there we would sit. I dont remember what we talked about, junkie stuff I’m sure. But I do remember that she had kids. She did mention that. And I have always wondered about her poor children. Did they even know where she was? Did she even care? And this poor soul, She would sit there, as would I. And Then She would just hop up and say”Ope, I got a date”. I don’t know whats nastier, her selling her ass or the fact that someone was willing to pay for it. But i remember one time in particular, that she got dropped off after one of her “dates”(tricks) and she came walking back up to the bench and said something like, Hell yeah Mother Fucker I just got me 12 dollars”.

Twelve Dollars.

Holy shit. I don’t even know what I was feeling or why this memory disturbs me so badly, but it does. This woman, with no teeth, she smelled worse than me, Her finger was rotting, spoke so normally, never really seemed dangerous at all, had kids, and just sold her body. for twelve dollars. I remember felling so much pity for her. I remember feeling so sad. I always seemed to take on the people I met’s pain along with mine, but for whatever reason, I always felt like there was hope for me, but in this moment, this woman here, I felt so hopeless for. Its a very rare and scary feeling to look at a person or a time and realize that there was no hope there. This was one of those times. There are so many people out there like this. Just existing. The man with the socks, the prostitute with the finger, The pregnant girl in the apartment, Bud, This is what addiction does to people. this is what it did to me. This is where it took me. I saw things and people and places that I never thought I would. Its so much more than an egg in a hot skillet and “this is your brain on drugs”. I still think about these poor, sick, sad, and suffering souls. Theyre all apart of me. Theyre all apart of my story and life. And I hope they all made it out. Or at least got to experience love, laughter, and joy once more before they finally nodded out behind a dumpster somewhere for the last time.

People talk about Fucking statistics. Numbers. They talk about us like they’re tallying up an RSVP for a wedding or something. I know that it’s so truly sad that we addicts die. I will never discount it. But its not just that we die. Its how we die. I think about living a day like that poor woman, or having to wipe my ass with my socks and then put them back on so my feet don’t freeze off, and then passing away all alone on a park bench or in an alley. It breaks my heart as I write this. Those people once mattered. They still do. I feel them. I feel their pain. That was someone’s little girl, or Dad. And now they’re probably gone. now they’re probably one of those statistics we read about. God I hope not. I pray that they made it. I know what that hopelessness feels like.

Incomprehensible Demoralization.

That’s what addiction is. Summed up in two words. It is the stealer of children and hope. I don’t know which is worse. Feeling my own. Or witnessing someone else’s.

The Badge

Recently I had the great pleasure of being the closing Plenary/Keynote Speaker for the Annual Indiana State CASA/GAL Conference down in French Lick, Indiana. This was my second year in a row with this conference, and my second year as the closing speaker. CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers who advocate for children who are in need of assistance from an outside source, because the children’s parents are involved in some kind of legal trouble- drugs and alcohol, domestic abuse, neglect, etc… CASA’s have and will always hold a special place in my heart, because my son was one of those children who needed someone to advocate for him while I was stuck in the grip of active addiction. Here in Indiana we call it a CHINS case- Child In Need of Services. I was a CHINS Dad twice actually, and had the same CASA for both cases. To this woman I am forever grateful. I cannot even imagine the horror, pain, loss, and difficult decisions that these brave volunteers face on a daily basis. Children are the silent victims of drug addiction, and I am so thankful that there was someone to stand in the gap for my son when he needed it most. Thank God I was able to, so far, God willing overcome my demons and get my son back into my life and me into His. He needs his dad. But there are so many parents out there that will be forever separated from their kids, I cannot even begin to know or understand what those poor children grow up thinking or feeling-knowing that their parents either couldn’t over come and get them back, or quite frankly, gave a fuck enough to try.  I have actually heard on more occasions than I care to recall- of parents who simply chose drugs over their kids, and signed their rights to their kids away to continue their pursuit of self destruction and blotto. It breaks my heart.

But anyways, I was asked to come down and speak to these amazing difference makers. On Saturday afternoon from 3:00-4:15 P.M. Months before the conference, I was asked to think about my topic, and what kind of talk I was to deliver, and I did, I wanted it to be different than last year. I wanted it to be personal to me, and relevant to the overall theme of the conference. Now I normally don’t script my talks, as I don’t typically do too well with memorizing things, and I didn’t want to force some topic that I couldn’t deliver on. So, I just allowed God to speak into my life and nudge me toward something he wanted me to talk about. And He did. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise, but those of you who have been following for years know that I write like I talk, I write like I think. So I tend to ramble and back track without warning. See? Told you. But anyways, So about 45 days before the French Lick conference, I did a panel at the Valparaiso Police Dept. with some friends of mine from the field of mental health, addiction, treatment, and law. A gentleman that was on the panel with me, who I admire and appreciate very much went just before me, and he said something that took me WAY BACK. Now, I’m not one for statistics, or charts, numbers, or graphs- but when he said this it pricked my heart big time. Because he was talking about me. And he said, “Children who experience trauma are 5000% more likely to become addicted to drugs.” Five Thousand Percent. Holy Shit. That Makes a lot of sense to me. And I didn’t know it it that exact moment, but that was the seed that I needed planted, that’s exactly what I was to talk about at the CASA conference. MY TRAUMAS.

One thing that I know for sure, is that it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from. It doesn’t matter who your parents are, or what your upbringing was. It doesn’t matter if you have never done a drug in your life- Everyone is in recovery from something. Another thing that I have learned throughout my life, is that all of our wounds and pains, all of our “secret places” are all very much the same, but so very different. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I may not have done what you’ve done or been where you’ve been, but I have felt what you’ve felt. The circumstances, situations, and people I’m sure were much different, but I know what hopelessness feels like. I know what insecurity is. I know what it feels like to be lost. Everyone’s pains are different, and we as human beings are NOT allowed to say that someone’s trauma or pains are insufficient just because we have survived “worse”. Another thing that I think I know, is that for the most part, people become, even for a brief time, products of their environments. We become used to our environments. We adapt, we take on our life experiences. To some extent or another. I believe this is why they say, “you are the average of the five people you hang out with most.” I was no exception.

I remember, very clearly as I was talking to this crowd of 800 people down in French Lick, this very soothing calm come over me. It was kind of scary at first, but one thing that I have come to practice when delivering talks, is to know my audience. And this bunch here, boy have they seen it all. They’re the hands and feet respectively in their particular niche, dealing with hurt children. And that’s exactly what I am. Deep down inside, I’m a hurt little boy. God it scares the fuck out of me to get so vulnerable on the internet for all the world to see, but I swore I wouldn’t hold back, so pardon me while I collect myself and push through this. UGH. Before I really got flowing, hell before I even got up there, I felt like I was gonna throw up. Airing out my secret places to a bunch of strangers. What will I even say? Can I even get through a full 75 minutes just free style sharing? Oh boy, this could go really badly. But it didn’t. I believe that I am still walking in my purpose, and the growth and the experience, the service is in the uncomfortable. It still is scary though. Sharing these things. When I first got clean, I had a hard time sharing just every day feelings with people, and now here I am up here talking to the masses about stuff that I thought I had almost forgotten about. I guess that compartmentalizing is a defense mechanism or coping skill that I developed from an early age.

And one thing that I noticed, and I think that this is where I was going all along with this post, is that I got up there and I was telling these people “About ME”. It’s funny, because I actually had this revelation while speaking, they may have thought that I was kinda playing them a little, but I wasn’t. I am NOT my story. I am NOT my trauma. I am NOT my scars. I am not defined by the things I experienced in my life. Although as a child I was defenseless, and helpless to the things that happened, I am not now. It’s funny, this whole life thing. And how it can affect us. How it can shape us and mold us into who we are.

They say the past doesn’t change. But maybe the way we look at it can. It has for me. When I first got thrust into this whole speaking thing, I would talk to schools and churches, and various agencies, and the beginning was always very similar: “My childhood was a lot like yours, I love baseball and fishing and riding bikes.” Which is true to this day. But none of our lives are really a lot alike. We all face different challenges and feelings, we all face different traumas and pains. The things that I faced as a boy led to a lot of insecurity, which, ask Tiffany, I still struggle with to this day. It took like 20 years to form me, its not going away over night. Food and housing insecurities led to insecurities of self worth and love. Parental insecurities and family insecurities led to abandonment issues. Moving constantly and running from our problems led to personal insecurities, Who am I? Am I good enough? Am I lovable? Why does everyone I love always leave me? Is it me? Am I the problem? And so I carried these things with me for a long time, and sometimes I pick them back up because I am human and we all do that. But, what I’m thinking about now, is that all of these pains, these insecurities, these wounds and these scars, were my identity. The Badge that I wore to identify myself. This broken, wounded, lost, lonely little boy from Georgia. And then I found myself using drugs to fill that unfillable hole. That Void. It was as if I was on some journey of self discovery. Just kinda wandering alone in the dark bumping into everything I could, trying to find myself with Zero Fucking Direction. Just cut em loose and see where he lands type of deal. I was layer upon layer of false selves. On top of the broken kid from Georgia, the hopeless drug addict, on top of that, a person dying to quit using, and on top of that, a person dying to not feel so alone, and just be valued. And it all rooted in my secret places as a kid. So fucking interesting. Freud would have a fucking field day with my crazy ass mind. What a rabbit hole we just went down. But that’s the idea. Is that I never really had an identity. I always identified as what I had been through, not who I really was. And I think that’s why a lot of us addicts struggle with this whole stigma thing. And its because I have a serious coping defect. I use to change the way that I feel, to escape the wreckage in my mind, to avoid discomfort, to find relief, and now that becomes part of who I am. And onward we go, running from one horrible fucking reality to the next, Changing like a chameleon every step of the way. From the frying pan and into the fire. Running away from the broken little boy, to the deranged drugged out adult, and never finding anything. Clinging to memories that I swore to suppress, hoping this next pill or powder makes it go away, and encountering more and more horrible things, people, feelings and situations as I go. All the while collecting them like a nightmarish snowball headed down hill. Until all of a sudden I’m 25 years old: bottoming out clean, because I don’t have access to drugs to numb it away and I’m sitting in a jail cell actually having to relive and refeel everything that I have been running away from for so long, and holy shit- I’m a dope fiend, unlovable, no good, loser, junkie little boy from Georgia and I should just off myself because the only thing I have ever known to work, drugs, stopped working long ago and i just want the pain to go away.

I identify as what I have experienced. I identify as my wounds. My scars. My pains. My Trauma. But that’s not who we are. That’s not who you are. That’s not who I am. I think that in some twisted way, we put the stigma on ourselves, because we never really deal with the ugliness of active addiction until we get clean and start taking a look at ourselves. There is so much shame and pain inside of us that we have stuffed down deep, that when we actually try to get out and be a productive member of society, that we expect there to be some giant neon sign above our head every where we go, Like, “watch out here comes this piece of shit that was molested as a child, watched his mother beaten on a nightly basis, turned over to foster care, and then turned to drugs to deal with pain of it all, committing felonies and robbing people because the pain of not having the drugs was less than the pain of feeling what a low life, unlovable peace of shit we are.!!!! watch out for this one, and definitely DO NOT GIVE THEM A JOB, because they’re just too ugly of a person and no one wants them around.”

That’s what shame feels like.

And it all happens in the blink of an eye. The human mind and heart are truly remarkable and fragile places.

And I share these things with others openly because I have to. I feel led to. I truly believe that one of the most powerful things we can share with one another is our pain, our secret places. People want to know that you understand. They want to hear that wordless language of empathy. They want to feel understood and valued. They want to know that they too can overcome and that they don’t have to identify as what they’ve been through. That they can rewrite their story, or help someone else rewrite theirs. If you want to truly help someone the most important thing you can do is listen to them.

I always felt ashamed of who I was. I felt ashamed of what I’ve been through. And I wore that shame like a badge. The very shame, hurt, guilt, insecurity, and fear that I thought I was avoiding, and hiding, shone like a dark mask on my inward self. And it’s who I saw when I looked in the mirror. And it still comes back once in a while. But it is not who I am today. And it doesn’t have to be who you are any longer. One of the greatest quotes I have heard to this day is: Recovery Demands Exposure. Now this doesn’t suggest you go screaming from the mountain tops all of your trauma and secret places to anyone who will listen, but it does suggest this: You gotta tell someone. A burden shared is a burden lessened. Expose that shit, name it, own it, burn it, blow it up, and get back to rewriting the story that god intended you to. Everyone loves a good comeback story. Everyone loves an underdog. Go fucking be one.

 

Hey Bud!

I spent a lot of time homeless while in my active addiction. That’s no secret. Everyone who has been following me already knows this. It was miserable. It was very lonely. I cried silently to myself often. I prayed. I hoped in my core that things would some day get better. In between the twacked out crack highs and the oblivion heroin lows, when I had the mental capacity to do so, I would reflect back on my life. I would kind of just blank, and watch my life story in the fore front of my mind while looking out the window of the CTA bus line, or the red line train, or the blue line. It was strange. I was present and alert, sometimes, but I could actually watch my life story in a very morbid reflection. How did I get here? How did I actually end up in this place and in this time, this very moment? Sitting on a bench in Garfield Park, or at a bus stop in Lawndale, while the busy hustle and bustle of local gang, crime, drug, and police activity just passed me by. And during my comings and goings I met a lot of sad, lonely and broken people. I encountered some of the forgotten ones. I saw what the bottom rung of our broken society looks like, and for a brief moment in time, we shared each other’s pain. You know what’s interesting? Is that today, there is absolutely no way that I would ever go back to those spots in the city. I would never in a million years go back to those benches, bus stops, or gang ways. No way. It was far too dangerous, for me. Today. But, back in the day, when I was in it, it was weird- I was a regular in some of the most depraved and deadly parts of the most dangerous city in the United States, and very few times did I ever actually feel in danger, save for being robbed at gun point, or afraid of the cops. I hope this makes sense, yes I was scared, but I was scared FOR MYSELF. I was more afraid of facing another day than I was of walking into an unknown alley way, to buy an unknown powder, from an unknown gang member who was visibly brandishing a very large hand gun. I don’t know, it’s strange. It’s almost like this survivor’s bond that we all shared. All of our lives were shit. I can’t even begin to understand what would drive a 9 year old boy to sell heroin on a bicycle. But I bought it from him every day. I wonder if he’s even alive today? Anyways, that was a rabbit hole of thought, and not where I intended this entry to be going. I aimed at the beginning to share with you some of the sadder souls I have met, and one of the more insane and depraved. So here we go.

While living my life on the bottom, I would frequent the area just off of Ohio & Homan on the city’s West Side. Incredibly high crime area, God I can see it right now with my mind’s eye. Open air drug market, addicts every where, dealers every where, screams, gun shots. Blue lights flashing on local CPD cameras, which seemed to be on damn near every corner, but did nothing to stop anything. And then there was me: stinking, unbathed, strung out, 125 pounds soaking wet, right in the thick of it all. And I was hollow, I was alone, I was scared. But it didn’t matter because “I” was not even steering the ship, it was like watching myself walk through life. Like an outer body experience, just kinda drifting. Watching this nightmare unfold day after day. And sometimes, maybe for a few minutes, maybe for an hour, I would encounter a fellow dope fiend. Just as lost as I was. Just as hopeless, just as broken. And for those brief moments in time, I would have a friend. And sometimes it was just a fucked up chance encounter. Like “Bud”. “Bud” was clearly not his real name, so I’ll use it here. Bud lived in an abandoned building on Homan. Between Ohio and Chicago Ave, I think. Now I had always seen this guy coming and going. Scurrying around like a crack head, making dope fiend moves, ripping off white kids from the suburbs in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin who came to the West Side for the promise of the best shit around and a few extra bags that they could then skim from their friends back home for making the trip and taking the risks, but were too scared to actually go to the source, so they entrusted guys like Bud to make the run for them and then bring it back to them. But, I obviously wasn’t one of those kids. And one day, while waiting on the plug to get to the spot, Bud and I struck up a conversation. The topic of which I have no fucking clue. But here we were, among a throng of other awaiting dope fiends, two of which was a pregnant couple. And I think things took a turn for the scary when I had mentioned that I was a lone wolf and only got to smoke my rock and shoot my dope comfortably when I found an entry to an abandoned building, or a tucked away corner some where. And Bud invited me to come and get high with him, in his “house”. I didn’t think anything of it, I wouldn’t be there long anyways. Being a panhandler, and a petty thief without a car and on foot never really netted me much, maybe one rock and one blow per trip, so I’d be there, what?- maybe twenty minutes? So I took him up on his offer. The plug got there, served us, and we were on our way. Bags in our cheeks and pipes and needles in our pockets. We scampered over Homan Ave, through the gang way, around the back, and into Bud’s dwelling. I’m getting nauseous and sickly feeling recalling this memory, but I promised to never hold back, so I’m not. We entered the “house” which was basically a one room apartment located inside a completely abandoned building. And, to be honest, I was actually kind of impressed. He had somehow acquired power. He had lights, and even an antenna T.V. rigged up inside this little crack shack. He had a bed, a couch and even posters on the wall. I guess necessity is the mother of all invention, huh? So we sat down and started smoking. Neither one of us spoke for about 20 minutes. Those of you in recovery who have smoked crack before know why. It is not a very social drug or high. And as we started to come down and stop shaking, We both prepared our Heroin to “get right”. And now we were able to actually speak to one another. I don’t recall about what. But we spoke, and it was casual. And sometime later, Bud said that he was about to make another run. He told me that I was welcome to stay but not to steal anything and he would be right back. Well, shit, that sounds good. Go right ahead, its cold outside, I’ll be right here man, thanks for letting me chill for a bit. And in no time flat he was out the door. But after quite some time, he still hadn’t returned and I could feel inside me that something wasn’t right. So I got up to walk out to the gang way to smoke a cig. But when I got to the only door to the outside I noticed something very strange, and I had to do a double take. I looked at the big heavy and fortified door, and noticed that there was a massive chain on it. At first my strung out brain couldn’t quite compute what I was seeing. I grabbed the knob and pulled the door inward to open it. But it would barely budge. What. The. Fuck?!?….Holy shit. This dude left the apartment, and had this whole chain set up long before I arrived and has it fashioned and locked from the outside in. He has actually fucking chained me inside. Oh no, this is not good. I ran back up the landing and into the room where we were chillin. I stuffed all of my paraphernalia and checked the windows. Barred and locked. Fucking of course they were. Back down the landing to the door. Yanked it as hard as I possibly could. Nothing. It was becoming very clear to me that he had done a very good job at keeping me contained inside this little room with no way out. PANIC. SHAKING. FEAR. What was about to happen to me? I have got to get out of here, and fast. My survival instincts kicked in. Search the apartment. Find something to break out of this place as quickly as possible. Drawers. Under the bed. Behind the couch. Nothing. Holy shit. Will I be beaten? My God, will I be raped? Or worse, murdered? I gotta get out of here, my hands are shaking as I type this. I felt like I was gonna vomit, and I absolutely TOSSED this apartment searching high and low for anything I could find to get outta here. And I can’t even recall where it was, but I found something I thought I could use. A claw hammer. And I got to work. There was about 15 nails pounded into the back of this VERY HEAVY, probably oak door, holding the massive chain in place and they were pounded flat. Nowhere to grab the heads of the nails and simply pull them out. Fucking of course there wasn’t. So I violently pounded against the piece of the nails where they bent over and made contact with the chain. Violently pounded. Loud as hell. If Bud was within ear shot certainly he would hear it, but if he came rushing in to stop me, I remember having the image of bashing his brains in with the now tool as well as weapon that I clutched in my right hand. I did not give a fuck, this was life or death. One nail broke, then two, then five. I was slowly breaking these nails free, and pulling each chain link free as I went. It was working. Holy shit. But I’m not quite there yet. More nails broke, more links freed. And finally got to the last one and was able to pry the door completely open. I stuffed the hammer into my waist line and bolted out the door and around the corner toward Chicago Ave., where I would wait and jump on a bus and in plain view of public just in case something happened. And as I turned the corner from the gang way and out onto the side walk of Homan Ave., here came Bud, with about 6 very sketchy looking men with him. I have never ran so fast in my life…”Motha fucka” I heard Bud kinda say to himself and the others. “Steve!!! What the fuck white boy!!?” And I heard the stampede of foot steps racing behind me. But The closer I got to Chicago Ave. The safer I felt. And I got there. Right next to the Family Dollar, and turned the corner. As I did I looked behind me to check the distance, and it was clear to me that Bud was obviously frustrated. He kind of did the “Ah Damn/Oh Shucks” Shoulder lift and downward fist punch in annoyance as he realized I had gotten away, and the group of men gave up their pursuit. They turned around and headed into the gang way. My heart rate finally slowed as I got onto the CTA bus, headed for God knows where. But far, far away from here. Holy Shit. What could have just happened to me? Phew. I survived another day. Thank God I’m outta there. Relief…..

But then dread. Because I knew. That if I wanted to get my fix again. I would have to go right back into that Lion’s Den again. In just a few short hours…..

Why?

I didn’t always wanna keep using. In fact, most of the time I was using against my will. It had stopped being fun a long time ago. It was more like a job now. Wake up in instant pain and agony the second my eyes open and I became conscience. Covered in sweat and goosebumps. Bones hurting. Skin crawling. I remember vividly that when I was dope sick, everything smelled funny. I don’t know why, but when I was sick, no matter where I was I always smelled this old mattress smell, like some rank ass old rubbery smell. And the panic, my God the panic that came along with being dope sick. Imagine waking up and your first thought upon awakening is sheer and utter dread. Every damn day. Chills then heat. Sweats then freezing. The only thing that was going to take the pain and misery away was the very thing that continued to cause it. Perpetual insanity…I truly believe, in my off the cuff opinion here that 90% of all heroin addicts are truly miserable. The only reason we keep going is because we get so horribly dependent on the drug physically that we wake up every day and literally have no choice in the matter but to keep doing more. If I wake up in horrible fucking agony every day, and knowing in my mind that this drug is destroying me and I only have 2 choices: go through the pain, delusion, insomnia, and psychosis of withdrawl for God only knows how long- the last time I detoxed was cold turkey in a jail cell and I was sick as a dog for 2 weeks and didn’t sleep at all for 28 days. -OR- do whatever it takes, steal, lie, beg, manipulate, rob, or con someone to get the very drug thats killing me just to stave off the hell for one more day. Why, to me it’s a no brainer. I am going to do whatever it takes to get that bag, and MAYBE I’ll try and get clean TOMORROW… this is why crime is so common with heroin addicts. The crime is a symptom of a MUCH deeper issue here. I have never committed a crime clean and sober. Ever. But anyways, tomorrow had come for me a few times during my career as a dope fiend. Those moments of clarity, and desperation that we hear about and see in movies. But they’re always few and far between for addicts like me. I used for what, almost 14 years, and actually reached out for help, honestly, without jail or prison hanging over my head, what? 8 times? I think….

I couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t dope sick, but I knew that I was going to be very soon. My day of crime had netted me about 6 or 7 bags, which were definitely already gone, and about 100$ in currency. I wasn’t sick, but my cycle was about 12 hours and I had just injected my last 3 bags. The time was now. I had to make a move or God only knows how long it was going to be until I had this window of willingness again. So I picked up the phone. I am not going to mention any names, or institutions here, as I never do and never will, because this is my story and no one else’s. I called a local hospital here in the region which has a long running reputation for helping addicts and alcoholics get clean and sober. This would be my second try contacting said hospital. The first time they flat out told me that they couldn’t take me. Which was cool, I guess. At least they didn’t give me the run around that time and I appreciated that in some sick fucked up way. I think the run around, and being passed from help line to help line is as insulting, discouraging and makes an addict feel just as hopeless as the needle it self. But anyways. On we go. So I called this place this time, and explained my situation in almost embarrassing detail. Embarrassing because I did this to myself. I take ownership of that. And because I was so pitiful, and scared, and vulnerable, and poor. I just didn’t want to hurt anymore. I told the voice on the other end of the line that I needed and wanted help and I would come there and walk in willingly into the world of recovery if they could just show me some love, and tolerance, and give me a bed and help me not wake up so sick tomorrow. “I just can’t go on like this anymore. Please help me.” The other voice on the line was very kind. Very patient with me and sounded like he or she really wanted to be that beacon of light for me. So they instructed me to pack a bag with clothes and hygiene for 7 days and that they did in fact have a bed for me and would hold it until about 10 pm that night. I told the person that yes I had a ride and would be there immediately. But I also wasn’t stupid. I mean, I may have lived in abandoned buildings, Eaten out of garbage cans, Shot Heroin IV with toilet water from the nastiest places known to man, and smoked crack out of a plastic big pen tube, which tastes amazing and I’m sure the thick black smoke coming off of the melting plastic is super good for you and all, BUT I AM NOT STUPID- So I took my cash with me. Just in case something happened and they turned me away. Because I know that hospitals, treatment centers, detoxes, etc may not always be able to take me. But believe me, my dope dealer always will…That’s a sad fact of life right there. So anyways, I walk into the hospital lobby, with my little roller suitcase stuffed to the gills with anything I thought I might need. The second I walked in, this wave of relief and a glimmer of hope washed over me. I was finally going to get free of this. On my own. And I know it’s going to work this time because I really want it. I had finally reached a point where I know that this doesn’t work, and I’m desperate enough to try anything that might work. This is it. I’m so close I can taste it. I got butterflies, and shook with anticipation. It was finally happening. And I walked my 125 pound ass up to the desk and explained to the lady behind the Check in/registration counter who I was and why I was there. The time was about 6:00 PM. She had me fill out some basic paper work and I complied. I handed her the paper work and sat down with my suitcase and waited. And waited. And waited… They’re probably just moving someone or getting my bed ready. I’m just thankful they finally said they would take me this time. I shouldn’t be getting sick for several hours now. I got some time. I’d go outside to smoke and grab a pop from the machine to pass the time. I’d stare at my phone. I’d stare at people. Finally after about 2 hours I went back up to the counter just to check in and see what was going on, and the lady informed me that she was waiting on some type of “superior” to let her know what to do. Ok. Another hour, another check in. Nothing. More waiting. As time hammered on like a locomotive at a snails pace, powerful, noisy, determined, and slow as fuck, I began to grow increasingly anxious and inpatient. I’m actually writing this without effort, I’m just banging away on this keyboard as I watch this next episode of, “My life Fucking Sucks” playing out in my head. More time. more check ins, no news. The time is now well after 10:00 PM and now I am being informed that I MUST wait until the morning, when this so called superior, or department head, or whoever the hell this person is, actually comes to the hospital physically. Well that’s not what I wanted to hear. But oh well, what choice do I have? I can make another 10 hours or so, I have some cash so I wont be hungry or without smokes, I should be good. 8:00 am comes quickly, Ill Just close my eyes here and hope to sleep through the night and when I wake up, It will be time to get better. And I did. I did sleep through most of the night, up here and there to go out and smoke, but for the most part I did sleep. But the problem with sleeping on opiates, at least for me, is that I tend to sleep it off. I always wake up dope sick, and this time was no different. I was now once again, a sweaty, anxious, goosebumpy, anxious, mess. But hey, it was 8:00 am and time to check in so thats good. I walked up to the counter and talked to a different lady this time and explained my situation and what I had be directed to do. Wait. She took my name and grabbed my form and walked back into the back. She came back about ten minutes later and it was very clear that either she had no idea why I was there or that they had zero intentions of admitting me for detox. Holy shit. This is not good. So I asked for her supervisor, because my name is Karen and I want to talk to the manager. And this gentleman came out and explained to me very matter of factly that he did not care what anyone told me to do, it is looking like you will not be admitted for detox here and then very casually walked back to the back to attend to all the important people…I was shocked. I was crushed. I was on the brink of tears, I felt like this was some kind of very cruel joke. I fought back the tears and choked back, I very calmly looked at the lady and told her what I had been instructed to do. Then I proceeded to look her dead ass in the eyes and told her, “Listen, lady, I need help, I was told to come here almost 12 hours ago, I’m dying. I’m desperate. And if you guys don’t take me like you said you would, I’m going to walk outta here, and I’m going to fucking kill my self.” That got her attention. She said she would be right back, “just wait right here, Mr. Stepherson”. Someone will be here for you. And she was right. She went into the back and called the fucking cops on me. Two uniformed officers came walking into the lobby, told me to grab my things, and then walked escorted me off the hospital grounds. They walked me to a nearby pavilion, and issued me a no trespass warning. They told me if I ever came back to that hospital that I would be arrested. I had never felt so defeated in my entire life.

*************************************************************************************

After I had finally gotten clean, and had been at the Respite House for a while, I joined a baseball team with some of my recovery buddies. We always joked and said it was an “old man” league. But it sure was fun. It felt good to be back out there on the ball field again. I felt young, I felt alive, I was having fun. It was So nice to get out there and chatter and mess around with the guys on a sunday afternoon, even though I quickly realized that my best baseball days were long behind me. but it was still fun and that’s what mattered. We played every sunday all summer long. We traveled all over to play too, Chesterton, Portage, Valpo, Hobart, and others. I played all over the field as well, I was the “utility guy” I was not afraid to play any position, except second base, I don’t know why but playing the two bag was always weird for me. Maybe it was the positioning on the field? I have no idea. Other than that, It didnt matter where I played, as long as I was in the game. One game I was assigned to play short stop, which I love playing because it gets a lot of action, and it gives me a chance to show off my arm, shooting guys out at first base across the diamond and hearing that loud POP of the leather, seeing the dust fly out of the squeezed mit, and seeing the “bang bang” of the close play has always excited me. And then there’s turning double plays, which I have only done a few times, but man is it fun. Just the whole culture of being out there, and the chatter and the shit talking is so fun to me. I miss my old playing days. But on this day, I got a lot of action, I was dusty and dirty by like the 4th inning. And on particular play I had to dive out toward the short left field grass and behind the third base bag to try and keep the ball on the infield. I did infact make the grab, but I was too deep in the infield and the guy was too fast, so I just had to “eat it”. No play. And I noticed that I may have tweaked something in my lower back, but no big deal at the time. But it was kinda sore. Maybe just a stinger, just a light tweak, no big deal. I finished the game and as the day progressed I noticed that my back pain too was progressing and that I was going to be super sore in the morning. And boy was I. The second day after was even worse. Thank God for Tiffany. Bless her heart. She would be having to help me with my socks and shoes for the next couple days. Getting old is fun. Ibuprofen, Ben Gay, Icyhot, ice packs, heat packs. Nothing seemed to ease the pain. Finally, around night four or five, I finally made a decision that the next morning I was going to go into a local urgent care and see what they had to say. And I was not being dramatic either. This was bad. I couldn’t bend, I couldn’t tie my own shoes, I couldn’t drive. Maybe I had torn or broken something. I needed an X-ray at least. The place I had selected to go, was here in valpo, and they opened at 9:00 AM. Tiffany helped me with my socks and shoes, and I hobbled my old man ass out to the Explorer. I was at the urgent care place at like 9:01. I wobbled in like quazi moto and explained to the lady behind the desk why I was there and she asked me for my info and had me fill out some forms. I love filling out forms, Said no one ever. But I did as they asked, and once it was time, they asked me to come on back. A lady came back to visit with me and asked me some basic questions. What brings you in, etc… I told her what happened on the ball field and explained to her how it hurt and what not. I then proceeded to “Red Flag” myself, like I always do. To red flag myself means to “out” myself as a recovering drug addict. I told the lady right off the bat that I cannot have narcotics and will not be accepting any opiates for pain. Motrin 800’s and MAYBE a muscle relaxer if needed would be fine. She acknowledged my request and took me for some Xrays. She then accompanied me back to the room where I waited for the Doctor to come and explain everything to me. It took a little while for them to read the films, but eventually the doctor came back in. He was cordial and he was kind for the most part. He explained to me that I had a Lower Lumbar strain, and although not really all that serious it could be quite painful and uncomfortable for a while. I once again Red Flagged myself to him and explained to him that I cannot have any narcotics, no opiates, nothing that gets me high.  He nodded in acknowledgement and left the room for a few minutes. A short time later he came back in with some basic information on what my injury was, some home remedies for easing the pain, and some prescriptions to help me along in feeling better. “Ok, Herb, I’m sending you home with two scripts today. Motrin 800’s and flexiril, to help ease the muscles and the strain.” He handed me all of the information and thanked me for coming in. He instructed me to stop at the desk and sign out and to take it easy for a couple days and I should be fine in no time. I complied. I stuck the information packet in my back pocket and headed out the door. I hobbled out to the explorer and gingerly eased my self into the driver’s seat. I leaned up on my right butt cheek and pulled the info out of my back pocket. It was as he said, I was skimming over the info he had provided and then returned back to the front page to examine to scripts he had written me. Hmmmm…. WTF? He told me that he had written me two prescriptions. I thumbed through them and there it was. Little blue piece of paper number three, stapled so nice and neatly to the former and two, and sandwiched between them and the information on my injury. Hydrocodone 10’s. I stared down into the scribbly writing of the doctor and simply could not believe my eyes. I had very clearly told not one, but two different trusted people in the medical field that I DO NOT and CANNOT have any narcotics. I don’t even know how to articulate all of my thoughts on this, but there is very little chance that this was some kind of honest mistake. This man had clearly slipped this prescription for opioids into this packet, and then failed to tell me about. Unbelievable.

So, I can’t get the help getting clean when I do want it, and I CAN get the pills when I don’t want them….?

 

My question for you, reader, is WHY?