Blog

Kobe

I feel like a little piece of my childhood died right along with Kobe…

 

“Something happened America and I didn’t want you to miss it.
In the last 24 hours I quietly watched people of every race, religion, economic background, college grads and people who barely got out of high school. Scientists and bricklayers, Wall Street types and the guy who changes your oil. The family in the most expensive mansion in town and the folks living in public house… all of them, sharing a moment of grief for the handsome and talented man in this photo.
All of them stopping what they were doing when they heard the news and sharing a gut punch moment of dread, a feeling that this couldn’t have just happen. Not him. Not Kobe.
I know we are a divided nation right now, I get it, but please don’t feel the divide is so great we can’t bridge it. We can. We do. We will.
And all the panels of talking heads on the alphabet soup of cable news can’t turn us against each other. Don’t let them.
We really do have more in common than we think and we all love and lose and hurt no matter our zip code or who we voted for.
This loss should remind us how much we do share and in this moment I see a nation sharing grief for nine innocent people.
There is no sense to why this happened but we can find purpose in the loss.
Something happened in America and I didn’t want you to miss it.
We love each other. Kobe proved it.”

-John Gray Writer~ A Post I saw, Loved, and shared on Facebook

 

I have never mourned and grieved the loss of someone I have never met before, until Kobe Bryant died. I grew up idolizing sports figures, and, truth be told, I still do. I could not imagine, until recently, life without the Sports figures that I hold dear. Kobe, Jordan, Shaq, Lebron, Tiger, Primetime, The Manning Brothers, Chipper Jones, Khalil Mack, Drew Brees, Pat Mahommes, And yes, as much as I despise the Pats- Tom Brady. I mean these, and so many more, are in a very cheesey and non creepy way- Parts of my life. They’re so much more than just Athletes for me. They’re Heroes. So many of them have over come adversity, and fought tooth and nail to become who they are today, only to put their bodies on the line- game in and game out while america sits on a couch, or in a restaurant and screams at a light up little box, known as a television. And always have been heroes for me.  And in light of recent events I have felt led to share a little bit about my take aways from this horrible and untimely tragedy.

We all know, or should know, by now that Kobe Bryant is a Hall of Fame basketball player. In fact, the NBA is going to by pass the voting process and streamline his induction in light of his untimely death. He has two retired numbers for the Lakers. He is a top 4 scoring champion and number 1 in almost every single Lakers category. Over the last several days, ESPN and countless other news outlets around the world have been interviewing his colleagues, friends, fans, and just about anyone who has been impacted by his life and death. I remember vividly Doc Rivers’ courageous interview, voice cracking, tears running down his face. Inconsolable. Trying his best to articulate his emotions and grief when asked about what number 8/24 meant to him. And although we all may think that Kobe “The basketball player” is who they’re mourning. Basketball pales in comparison to what they were really grieving. They lost a friend. They lost a brother. They lost a Hero. But what Really made him a Hero to so many? Was it because he was fluent in multiple languages? No, but that is pretty cool. I took Spanish for like two and half years and I only know a few choice phrases, like ?Donde Esta La Biblioteca? I think that means where is the library. I have never met Kobe, and to be honest with you, I am thinking about deleting this whole post because I don’t want to offend anyone, or piss anyone off- due to my ignorance of his life and true legacy and relationships. But I wont. What I am trying to get at, is- Like the post I shared above from Facebook- for a Moment in time, the whole world stopped. It will in the future be one of those “Where were you moments”. I was at home, and I learned about his passing from my Daughter Jamie. My heart sank and I jumped on Google and turned on the news for confirmation, hoping to God it wasn’t true. But indeed it is true. And I am still very saddened by it. He was a kid from Philly. He fell in love with a game. Drafted right out of high school. Living his dream. Utilizing his platform and influence to make other people’s lives better. Not just his wife and children’s. And from what I can tell he was very humble and Gracious. I mean, he flew to Philly to watch his final basketball game, Where Lebron broke his record in his home town. In front of his home town people. And he smiled the whole time, and cheered him on, and congratulated LBJ. Pretty damn selfless. Pretty damn cool if you ask me. And though I don’t know enough personally about him to write some type of Biography on him, which this is not meant to be anything close to- What I do know about is people. And touching other Human Being’s lives. I hope I do anyways. For I know that there are thousands of people on some scale or another- good or bad, that have impacted me. Impacted my life, my heart, my spirit, my self esteem.

I know I’m a bleeding heart, leave me alone, I’m trying to make a point here. But I mean, look at the news. It’s been days, and they’re still talking about it. They’re still outside the Staples center with posters and flowers, and candles and all coming together. Not over some basketball player. But over the impact that one of their heroes had on their lives. The inspiration that He instilled, that anything is possible if you work hard. That you can achieve anything. That you can make a difference. That you can be a good dad and husband and pass on that work ethic, love, and inspiration to your own children. That being selfless is truly the most fulfilling thing to be. And I know there’s gonna be those that bring up his case from back in the day- So I’ll just go ahead and handle that now: We have all done things that we’re not proud of, you’re not perfect, and don’t judge someone just because they sin DIFFERENTLY than you do. End of story.

But the moral of the story here, is take a step back. Look at what just happened, like the post that I shared above. We all grieved together. We all had one pulse for a brief moment in time. We all had that lump in our throats at the same time. Black, White, American, Australian. European, Gay, Straight, Believer, and Atheists. We all acknowledged this young man, and the other’s in the helicopter’s lives. Collectively. In this recent week- it has made me personally reflect on what is truly important. It has made me feel convicted at times, about the things I could have done better, the times I could have loved harder, or better. When I have failed, Forgiveness, Fatherhood, Compassion, Memories. And it has reminded me not to take things for granted. That no one is promised tomorrow. No matter how rich or poor you are, our timelines are all different. Our “Dashes” are not the same. No matter who you are. No matter what you do for a living. No matter what your “position” in life. The only thing that people are TRULY going to remember you by- is the way you made them feel. The way that you touched their lives. The impact that you had on them. The leadership you showed. The example you set. Yes, The world is mourning the life of Kobe Bryant “the basket ball player”, But I promise you, that the Giant of a man- one of my all time favorite athletes- Shaquile O’Neal was not bawling his eyes out thinking about the time Kobe scored 81 points. He was crying and grieving all the memories, the impact, and the influence that that young man had on his heart.

Think about your life. Think about who you really are. Think about who you could be. Think about all the good you could do in this world, in your communities. If we just put the blinders on, focused, and followed that little voice in our hearts that perpetually propel us toward doing good. Toward blessing other people’s Lives. Toward making someone smile, making them FEEL special. *Spoiler alert* just to pull you off your little pink cloud for a moment- You’re gonna fuck up. you’re gonna fail from time to time. you’re gonna actually hurt people’s feelings some times. And that is very human of you. But learn, Grow, and get better. Did Kobe fail? Of course he did. But his greatness and impacts of goodness Far out weighed his shortcomings. And that is the idea here.

True, when 99.9% of us die, they will not erect a statue of us. They will not raise up our old high school jerseys and immortalize us. But what will they do? What will they say? What will YOUR legacy be? What do you want to be remembered by? As? Like Kobe, do we want to be remembered as the amazing, loving, kind, gracious, philanthropic, talented, giving person who made everyone’s Lives better? Who inspired others, who left a real life mark on this world? Or do we want to be remembered as the “Hall of Famer”- The “best damn carpenter/Dishwasher/Lawyer/Salesman/Golfer/Writer/Waiter/Uber Driver(Fill in your profession here___________)?”

We have the ability, every day when we wake up, and even as each moment passes through out each day- to actively choose. If we really focus on it. If we really make it a priority, we can Actually recreate ourselves in the blink of an eye. We, in each interaction and thought that we have throughout our lives, have this thing called conscience- and we can tune in to it- and in that moment be self aware- and focus our energies and compass in the direction that we wish. I have come to know that thing as the “Still Small Voice”. What will you choose? Who will you become in the next five minutes, days, weeks, months, or years? How will you spend your Dash? How will you make others Feel? Will you leave a lasting mark on someone’s heart so profoundly that they cannot help but do the same for the next generation? Will you live this life out to make your presence noticed, or your absence felt? Meditate on these things. Mentally chew on them. Pray about them. Who do you really want to be? Are you just conforming to the world around you, while that still small voice is screaming at you, to break out and LIVE? Who do you want to be? Who are you now? Where do you want to be? How do you want to be remembered? As the Hall of Famer who Showed up and Balled outrageous, or as the comforter, the teacher, the leader, the example, that helped change the heart of someone who needed it – and left a lasting mark on this world as we know it?

If you want to change the world for someone you have 2 choices: Hurt them Deeply, or Love them Profoundly.

Choose wisely.

 

THE DASH

the poem by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

 

© 1996-2019 Southwestern Inspire Kindness, Inc. All Rights Reserved

 

 

Rest in Peace, Kobe.

You spent your Dash well. Be proud Kid. You inspired many.

Gnats and Mosquitoes

Someone once told me that it isn’t the “lions and Tigers and Bears that get us, it’s the flies and gnats.”

I just wanted to get clean. I just wanted to not smoke crack or shoot dope anymore. I thought that’s what “getting better” was all about. It turns out, that that is just the tip of the iceberg. That is just the very beginning. Detox, in my opinion, is the only part of the entire recovery process that focuses on the drugs. Everything else in the marathon of recovery deals with this shit show in my head. My thoughts. My emotions. My traumas. My past.

I thought I knew what my life was going to look like when I got clean. Boy was I wrong. And that’s the thing about getting to know God, and allowing his Will to work in your life; You better be prepared for it. I just wanted a job somewhere, and an apartment, and a beater with a heater. I didn’t know what was in store for me. I didn’t know about all this “Feelings shit”. I certainly didn’t want to get vulnerable or honest from my gut with someone. That shits weird. I didn’t know or suspect that I would be married soon, with four kids. Or that I would be doing what I’m doing today. But just like finding a bottom is done one compromise at a time in a negative way- finding myself is the same, equal, but opposite process. I started making positive compromises. I started taking positive risks. I started following my nudges. And they have all led me to right where I am today.

Again, I will never write, video, or speak about how I’m perfect or “fixed” in any way. I am a result of hard work, lots of prayer, and the people that I have in my life to help keep me somewhere sane. But as I’m thinking about these things today, I think Vulnerability is a key component in recovering. And in life itself. It was always something that I ran from in the past because it was uncomfortable and we all know that addiction is about avoiding the uncomfortable. So instead of sharing my self, my inner most thoughts and risking getting hurt, I would just run away and use and hide. That is Addiction’s M.O.

it’s funny the way I see and recall things sometimes. I’m thinking back to a time when I was at Porter County Jail speaking with the Therapeutic Community for men there. I remember saying something about “Get in your feelin’s Dog” Or some type of jail house spin I was attempting to put on it. But the idea here is- That there is some slang people use, “Get outta your feelins”. Which essentially is saying- “Be an addict”, “Run”, “escape”, “Hide”, from your truth. But getting better and staying clean is all about the opposite school of thought. Inventory, Ammends, Honesty, and yes, Vulnerability. “Getting into our feelings” and sharing our inner most truths and thoughts and beliefs with at least one other person. And God. And the work is never done. It is an ongoing process. It takes, like any other skill or craft, years to learn and hone. And we need people around us who can call us out on the carpet when they see us behaving badly, coping in unhealthy ways, bottling things up, or shutting down. We need to have safe environments, and safe arenas where we can openly and honestly verbalize the shit that we all go through.

I do not always succeed with this, but thank God the people I have in my life can help me see my shortcomings even when I don’t. Some times, I just internalize and bottle up until I turn into this fucking old grouchy man on the couch that no one wants to be around. Thank God for my wife Tiffany who can see it coming a mile away when my demeanor starts to change- most of the time because I am not getting my way. We call this “King Baby Syndrome” I am textbook king baby. I think we all are in recovery, at least the first several years, because were still not quite accustomed to having to sit in the “ick”. Not being able to just self medicate it all away and increase pleasure and decrease pain instantly to feel optimal. It takes time to adjust to new coping mechanisms. And I think that’s why they say “SOBER stands for Son Ofa Bitch Everythings Real”. The Growth is in the uncomfortable and learning to first identify what were feeling, process it, vocalize it, resolve it, and then let it go. I still fail at this often, but I’m willing to keep trudging along and hopefully one day it becomes, just like addiction, a learned behavior. Another reason why it is so key to stick with the winners- people who are capable of mentoring and guiding us along on our journeys.

I just took a call from my little brother. Literally just got off the phone with him. He was calling to tell me someone who he has grown close to in recovery has passed away.  From an Overdose. And though this is very heartbreaking news to hear, and I’m sure for him to have to deliver to me. I applaud him for picking up the phone to try and express his feelings in the matter, process it, and listen. That is exactly what were supposed to do. And I believe that this is why they say to “Call on a good day, so it’s easier to call on a bad day.” It makes sense to me now. And it is funny to me that he called me and we talked through it all and then we both got on the topic of the tigers, bears, and mosquitos and gnats. He knew to pick up the phone during a time of extreme trial and distress. We know and can see a mile away when a Large Scale, scary, overwhelming time is testing our wits and strength. But are we capable of seeing how were being tested in the most subtle ways? If something tragic happens, it’s easy to see that I need some help to process this. But what about if my shoe lace breaks? What about a flat tire? What about losing a job? Isn’t every thing that happens in our lives either a “Lesson or a Blessin”” I think so. Although the smaller instances may seem like a non issue to most, aren’t each and every time something small or menial happens just smaller scale opportunities to be patient with the world and with ourselves? Indeed.

Apparently it’s God’s will for me to be writing this today, and to be a husband, and father of four. You want to talk about being tested daily. Jeez louise. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to pull what little hair I have left out. And some times I feel like what am I doing? Why am I here? WHAT. THE. FUCK is going on? But then I talk it out with my wife, or a friend, or with God, and come back to center and realize that I have everything and everyone that I ever prayed for. Not everything is a crisis. Not everything is cause for alarm. I cannot change the things that happen “to me” in a given day, but I can surely change the way I react to them. That’s a fact. We just do our best to stay grateful, keep things as simple as we can, stay humble, and remember that somewhere, somebody is praying for our “Problems”.

Sometimes, it’s not the Lions and Tigers and Bears that get us. It’s the Flies and the Gnats.

Are you really having a “bad day”, or was it really just an uncomfortable or unpleasant few minutes that you’ve been mentally chewing on all day?

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change. The courage to change the things that we can, AND THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.

Son. Ofa. Bitch. Everythings. Real.

You got this.

Intervention thoughts

Some thoughts on intervention today, For the families out there:

The Families of an addicted person play a much larger role in the recovery process than many have originally thought or believed. In fact, most of the time, it is the Family that reaches out to us asking for help with their special person. There are times, however, when the addict themselves reach out with a willing heart, but it is a bit more rare than the initial contact being from a concerned family member. And there is a very simple explanation for that- The family is witnessing it, and the addict is stuck in it and often times, stuck in denial and feels powerless to do anything about their addiction, so they just continue to use to numb the wreckage that their using is causing. And on the vicious cycle continues. But when the family has the where with all to take action- and brings someone in to disrupt the patterns unfolding and provides the family, and the addict with a safe place to land- that’s when things start to change.

In my experiences, the addicted person is much more ready for change than you may think. But they’re stuck in the family’s status quo. You didn’t get to “this point” over night- it is the result of a long series of compromises, manipulations, bargaining, unfulfilled promises, and unprotected boundaries. So because of the love in the family, the love and long history with the addict- we get stuck in this often times years long “dance”. We get so used to what is, that we lose sight of what could be. And families tend to get the “whats the use?” Mindset. Families have often times intervened hundreds of times on their person. You have pled, threatened, prayed, promised, etc… everything you could to no avail. I believe that this is often times a barrier to families helping their loved one. But when you utilize someone who is an outsider and who knows the language of addiction and who can fellowship with the addict from a place of empathy and experience- that’s when we can truly break through! I hear it all the time, “They just don’t understand, man.” “But I do brother”. It just has a different effect when it is someone who is outside your realm of normal. It just has a different impact.

And people will argue that the addict has to want to get better. Agreed. But what if you could MAKE him or her WANT IT? That’s the idea of an intervention: Educate the family, unify the family, expose the issue and crush the denial, and generate willingness to get better- from both the family and the addict. In my experiences, the families wont truly see genuine willingness until its a phone call from a jail cell, a terrible accident, loss of a job, and overdose, etc… Intervention allows us to control the situation, and hold that proverbial mirror in front of your person and show them their life through our lenses. It provides that gentle nudge, with dignity and respect to the person who is stuck in the denial and the addiction itself. We’re here because we love you. And you are far too precious to watch you die. We’re behind you 100% to help you get better and we recognize now, what we can do to ensure that that will happen. And as soon as your person hears our messages, and surrenders to try a new way of life. They’re going right then and there. We create willingness and then we capitalize on it.

But none of this happens, if you don’t reach out. We don’t know to help you if you don’t let us know you need help.

I always compare addiction to Cancer. If your special person had cancer, would you wait? Would you pray or bargain your way out of it? No. you would take immediate action and expose it to the best doctors the best clinics, and the best medicine you could and you would stand behind them every step of the way. With addiction it is no different. But on the contrary- How many people with cancer that don’t ever find out they have cancer die of cancer? 100% because their recovery demands exposure. If they are to get better they have to tackle and confront it head on with your support. And this is the exact same idea here. So do not be afraid, and do not be ashamed. Let’s come together and put a plan in place to help your person. To help you.

You can do it! We are always here to help!

GIGO

“A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke.” (Page 64~The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous)

Over the last recent years I have teamed up with our Sheriff to visit our schools here in Porter County. We show the video we put together about our horrible Heroin Epidemic and then I share with them the harsh realities of drug addiction. From what I understand from the feedback – other than I cuss too much, is that it has been a welcomed frank approach. That I speak the truth and let them in on what to expect if and when they decide to start experimenting with chemicals. And then we open things up for a Question & Answer time for the kids/young adults to openly and freely ask myself or the Sheriff some questions about drugs, addiction, or life itself.  But over the last several presentations we have done, the Sheriff has himself asked me a question for the audience to hear. One that is the inspiration of this blog entry.

“Herb, how important would you say it is, for these young people to watch/ pay attention to who their friends are?”

My response, “That may be one of the most important things/decisions that you do in your life.”

I do not know why I haven’t really dove into this topic before. Maybe because It just seems so common sense to me? Maybe it just wasn’t time. But here we are. Right here and right now.

We take inventory on all sorts of things. We, my Wife and I, personally look in our fridge and cabinets before we go grocery shopping so that we know what we need for the week. We check our mileage on our vehicle so we know when to expect an oil change. We do our checks and balances on our finances. We do inventory on all sorts of things in our day to day lives. Why shouldn’t we, and this entry is especially geared toward two audiences: 1- young people, in high school and middle school, maybe some college who have never done drugs, are thinking about doing drugs, or might just feel a little directionless. And 2- People in early recovery. Why shouldn’t we do inventory on our relationships, our friends, our peers, the places we work, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, the things we eat? I know that we SHOULD take inventory on these things, but how often do we? And why don’t we more? And I think the answer to that second question is because we get used to where we are. IF we were to take an honest look at our environment, then that might threaten our comfort. It might challenge us to make some changes and get vulnerable, which is difficult, but vulnerability I believe is a strength and needed for improvement. They say that we are the average of the 5 people we associate with most. So what does that make you where you are at right here and right now? What does that make me? Would you be happy with the Mathematics of that one? You+Your closest people divided by 6= you. ? I know that none of these ideas that I write about are original and super dooper cutting edge. I don’t know if I have ever had an original thought in my life. Have you? I mean, I know that’s an exaggeration, we all have original thoughts from time to time, we all have ideas- that’s how the world progresses over time- one great idea followed by action after another. But you get the point. But maybe that is the point, maybe we sometimes feel like we don’t have any good ideas, or the right drive and passion, because we’re not surrounding ourselves with people who challenge us. Maybe we haven’t “Audited our Circle” in a while and so were stuck in the same ol’ status quo…

 

I am often asked why recidivism rates, why relapse rates are still so horribly high. And the obvious answer is, Addiction is a disease for which there is no known cure and people will always continue to relapse and go back to jail as long as addiction exists. But as I think about that more and more, I think the answer can be found in the cycle of the process itself: We’re addicted>We get arrested>We got to jail and sit there long enough to get clean and finish our court dates>We get released right back to the streets and the only places we have to go are the exact places we just came from>We get addicted>we get arrested>….. You see the idea here. Our circle doesn’t change. Our environment doesn’t change. When a rose bush, or a beautiful flowering tree doesn’t perform well in your yard you don’t treat the flowers, you treat the soil. Or you dig it up and move it to where it would get more nourishment. Same idea right?

*This is why every single county in every state that is capable needs to make addiction treatment and mental health services a priority by building more and more half way houses/Sober Living Facilities like Respite house, Morraine house, Alice’s house, and the Caring Place – All four which are located right here in Valparaiso, In. So that people who are in need of an environment change and who want to give recovery an honest effort have a safe, structured, monitored, and healthy place to grow without being subject to temptations the like of which they were just subject to in their former lives.*

When I finally got clean, *and I actually had to delete what I had originally typed(“when I first got clean…” because when I first got clean, I relapsed, and the second time, and the third time, etc… because My circle never changed. I didn’t audit my life. I fell back into that cycle.)- When I FINALLY got clean, it was because, as many of you know, I was arrested and facing a very long time in prison. But it takes what it takes right? But I remember having some serious reflections on my life. I remember “auditing my life” I knew that IF I were to some how some way actually get a real shot at turning my life around, then EVERYTHING about my former life had to change. And it was a bitter and hard pill to swallow, pardon the pun. but it was. And it was scary. But I had to get honest and vulnerable with myself once and for all. Who was I? Why was I put on this earth? Did I even know what Joy was? Did I know how to be happy? Did I want to be successful? And what was it going to take to make that happen? It is very hard to explain all of this as I write, but I am doing my best to make some points here, and I hope you can all follow along as I do so. They say that the only thing we drug addicts need to change is everything. I, as I sat in that jail, was a product of the way I had been living. I was the sum total of all of my life decisions. The people I hang out with, the places I went, the things we did, the drugs, the booze, all the way down to the music I listened to. everything I did, thought, spoke, and ingested worked hand in hand with the lifestyle that brought me to this jail cell. It brought me to my knees. I became my environment in every way. I couldn’t stop thinking about using drugs, so I hung around drug addicts, and I ultimately became a drug addict. Garbage in, Garbage out- GIGO. So I started changing everything right inside that jail. I wasn’t going back to the world, to the lifestyle that I came from, that was for sure. But what version of ME would I go back to? So I changed everything from the music that I listened to, to the things I read in my down time, to the way I talked, and even the people I “hung out with” In jail. instead of spending all of my time sharing war stories and listening to rap about drugs and guns and bullshit, I spent my time in prayer, listening to the local christian radio, and reading recovery literature and my Bible. And little by little things started to change. And I have continued those very things to this day. I am very careful about what I put into my body- and yes, my ears, and my eyes, and my brain are part of my body. I fill my eyes with motivational things, pure things, good things, I’m sorry but if you’re on Facebook and are constantly sharing negativity and things that don’t line up with what speaks to me, then you have already been deleted and I apologize. I listen to spiritual music, not constantly, but very often, I pray, And I am always very careful to avoid high risk, negative situations and people. I have audited my life in major ways and continue to do so. This is what they mean when they say that “We must always remain Vigilant.” – On the look out for potential danger and to always proceed with caution. Does this mean that I am always “mousing around” and afraid of my own shadow, absolutely not! Because I have audited my circle in such a way, that I now have Life Speakers, Encouragers, Motivators, Family, Strong People who keep me Accountable, whether I fucking like it or not. Iron sharpens iron, and stupid sharpens stupid. Period. I choose the former today. Does it mean that I’m perfect and without flaw, HAHAHAHA- No. but it does mean that I have chosen to always strive to be better. Day in and day out. Sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. Progress, not perfection.

But these ideas here, don’t JUST apply to the recovering. They apply to those “Normies” out there, too. In your work, in your families, in your schooling, in your churches, in your neighborhoods. Who do you run with? Who are your people? Who is your “Plus 5”? Are you with people who are strong minded, success driven, goal oriented, accountable, reliable people? Or are you with “Blessing Blockers”? It is totally okay to close your eyes at night, or pray, or meditate on your life and answer these questions honestly with yourself. Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? Is what you’re doing right now going to help you get there? Is who you’re with going to help you “bloom and grow”? What about how you eat, how you think, what you listen to, who you depend on? Is it speaking life to you? Is it helping you grow? You are not a bad person if the answer to these questions is “No”, and then you make a change, just try not to hurt anyone in the process. You are not selfish, you are not a bad person, for taking care of YOU, first. It is okay. You don’t have to be anyone other than your truest self. That’s who you were meant to be anyways. Audit your life, audit your circle, audit your friends, even your family, audit what you listen to, and what you put into your body & Mind. So many people out there, think that a diet is just what we put into our bellies. But it’s so much more than that. It’s what we put into our minds, and our hearts- our eyes and our ears. If we want to be successful, then we have to witness our own behaviors, we MUST be selfish in that aspect, because only we know what we truly want, and only we know what our inventory is. we must, be able to take a stance and say, “this is not going to help me grow, this is not serving my purpose, this is not who I was intended to be” Whether your 15 or 65 years old, its never too late to realize these things and step out toward our true purpose.  So I challenge you all today, tonight, whenever you choose to take this on: To audit your life, Take some inventory, pray about it, think about it, write it down, paint it, whatever it is that you do- what do you have, what don’t you have, what do you need, and what needs to go? Or who? We should always be doing our own parts- accountable to ourselves- to be growing and doing our best to walk in the Mission which we are given. And if the people who you’re surrounding yourselves with are not helping you do that, then I am sorry to tell you this, but they are not your friends. Sometimes it takes a great deal of vulnerability to break into these types of circles, but I did it. I put my hand up in Bible study and said “I need some help here, Men.” I shook hands after NA/AA meetings and invited myself along for coffee after the meetings had ended. We have got to be willing to test our limits as we audit ourselves too, that’s how our limits, our circles, our challenges will continue to grow. So much of our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health depends on what we “Feed” ourselves. GARBAGE IN. GARBAGE OUT. And I will once again share this with you:

 

Change is one of the most difficult things that we face. But change is inevitable

One reason we don’t like change is we get comfortable where we are. We get used to our friends, our job, the place we live. And even if it’s not perfect we accept it, because it’s familiar. And what happens is, because we’re not willing to change, we get stuck in what God used to do, instead of moving forward into what God is about to do

Just because God’s blessed you where you are doesn’t mean you can just sit back and settle there. You have to stay open to what God is doing now. What worked five years ago may not work today. If you’re going to be successful, you have to be willing to change

Every blessing is not supposed to be permanent, every provision is not supposed to last forever. We should constantly evaluate our friendships. Who’s speaking into your life? Who are you depending on? Make sure they’re not dragging you down, limiting you from blossoming. Everybody is not supposed to be in our life forever

If you don’t get rid of the wrong friends, you will never meet the right friends

^Spoken Outro: “Ill Mind of Hopsin 8- Joel Osteen

Digital Footprint

Think about your life. Think about who you are, if we even know. Think about your family and your community. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? How do we even accomplish such a feat? What’s the use anyways? Will it even matter in ten years? This world is already going to shit anyways right? So why even try? Who are you?

Throughout history, and as recently as my lifetime, and yours I’m sure, we have had to dive into a stack of dusty old books- history, Encyclopedias etc. to learn about people. To learn of all the great movers and shakers of our world. We have written book reports, and essays on MLK, Lincoln, Einstein, and Jesus. These people come to mind in this instance because they’re people that I personally consider some of the greatest in human history. But how do we know? Because it was documented. “It is written.” But none of these great people are physically with us today, yet their legacies, their lives, their impacts are very much alive and well. Imagine of Jesus had a social media account. What if Einstein or the great Dr. Martin Luther King had a Twitter? or Facebook? How much greater of an impact might they have had? We’re in an age that is unlike any others before it. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, “We have the fucking internet.” Think about that. You wouldn’t even be able to read this without the internet. It is quite possibly Man’s greatest creation. Instant contact. Instant information, and misinformation. Instant influence. The possibilities are endless.  Let me step back to something that I noticed I just wrote. INSTANT INFLUENCE. What a concept. Back in the day, Lincoln had what? A telegraph, maybe? I cannot even imagine the work, the travel, and the handwritten letters delivered by horse and buggy that it took to get elected president, or to change the history of the united states and change so many lives the way that he did. Imagine that. Hey I am going to run for president, Let’s write out thousands of letters and organize campaign rallies word of mouth, and with news papers and shit. Crazy. But when you have a dream and a passion, nothing will stop you. When we’re inspired, we use what we have to make it happen. Period. And there are so many other amazing people throughout history who did it. And it was so much harder for them then, than it is for us today. Thanks to the amazing, hardworking generations before us, We’re now very much entitled, spoiled, and ungrateful for the sacrifices our predecessors put in, so much to where we mock them jokingly and say things like “OK Boomer.” That shit makes me laugh. But imagine. And it really isn’t that hard to do- the impacts that each and everyone of us are capable of making today. Probably with the device that you’re reading this on right now. I know it’s another one of my “bleeding heart” ideas, but it’s true. I look at Facebook and the News, Various information outlets and often it makes me very sad. Murder. Bombs. Rape. Guns. Hate. Violence. And the woe is me, passive aggressive, ugliness, gossip, and filth that I see on Facebook almost hourly. And I am not discounting that some people are sick, mentally or emotionally unwell and often times lonely so they use their accounts to reach out for someone to talk to and help them. I am not taking away from that, I am attempting to make another point, so let’s not take things out of context here. Although I’m sure some of you still will. I don’t care. The point I am making here, is that we have such an amazing tool at our fingertips to help shape the course of history for the next generations to come. Have you ever wondered, if when I die, if they were to build a monument for my life, what would it say? What would my obituary say? How many people would come to my funeral? I am not implying that having a bazillion Facebook or Instagram followers is going to ensure they build a statue in your honor and will need to have a massive funeral service for you at a local football stadium. But what I am saying, is that you, I, we have the capabilities today- right here and right now- to make a lasting impact on at least one person. And I think that is why I started writing to begin with. Three years ago today. January 6, 2017 Junkbox Diaries was published. And I started writing for a number of reasons. One was because I believed that in doing so, I could get the harsh and raw realities of drug addiction in front of John Q. Public and hopefully open some eyes and help at least one person. But it became a hobby that I am very passionate about. I believe that we have a responsibility to use what we have to share our experiences, to share our thoughts and beliefs on paper. On the internet, in ink. I believe that we are in an era now, albeit a very fragile one, where we actually have the power to harness either Good or Evil, and help impact people. We have a choice daily. We have a choice in every single moment of every day, to choose goodness. We can constantly reshape ourselves in each passing thought, action, and interaction. It is a supernatural and sub conscience ability that we all posses. And in those moments, and in these days, we can demonstrate and exhibit all the good things about this human experience for generations to come. And not the corny-look-at-me kind either. The genuine, altruistic type. The inspirational type. I mean think about it: and I know people will disagree with this, but in the words of Jurassic 5: “You’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution, what’s your contribution to life?” If you had the power to make the world a better place by inspiring one person a day for the rest of your life, or to make the world a worse place by spreading hate and evil and pessimism to one person each day- what would you pick? I know it’s a very simplistic version of some profound thinking, but isn’t that the best? Keep it simple, right? I think so. Energies are real. They’re psychic and cosmic. We have the power to influence and we don’t even know it or realize it. Because everything we do is so normal and habituated to us these days. So imagine, if Jesus, Or whoever you believe in, and if you don’t believe in anything, imagine having to go through one day- with your grama and Six year child witnessing your every thought, post, action, word, and idea. would you think twice about it? would you change your behavior because now someone you value is watching? Well guess what, someone you value is watching. Our communities, our neighbors, or society. They’re witnessing our life right in front of their eyes. It’s crazy, we are so intertwined with this internet thing that we don’t even take a second to think that we’re watching stranger’s kids grow up right before out eyes. And they, ours. It’s like seeing 3,786 different families photo albums on our phones. The Great, the good, and the bad. And people latch on to shit. They remember it. I look at my phone more than I probably should but we all do. And there is some really ugly shit on there. Violence, Gore, Hate, and negativity. And believe it or not, but there are actually much more vulnerable people out there, who are easily swayed by the things that you post. You may not feel all that important, but look at your accounts. Look at your friends list. Those people FOLLOW you. You. Have. Followers. What are you leading them to? Where are YOU going? Who are you following? Where are they going? All of this technology stuff is so common to use because its our normal. we wake up, we check our phones, and we go to bed watching Netflix or scrolling Instagram stories. Think about that. We have the power right here and right now to leave a lasting mark for years to come. They’re not even really using books in school anymore, and if they are its most likely in colleges, which is just a way for them to make more money, but that’s another topic altogether. They’re using computers. I’d like to tell my 5th grade math teacher a thing or two right now. “You’re not gonna have calculators in your pockets all the time when you grow up” She said. Welp, got that one wrong lady- I’ve got a fucking computer in my pocket. Our Iphones and Androids have as much if not more technology than the first space shuttles. think about that shit. Crazy. And were just gonna waste it? Or we’re just gonna allow it brainwash us and tell us who we’re supposed to be, what we want, what is truth, and how we’re supposed to act? hell no. Not me. There’s a war on free thinkers today. Don’t let beat you. And I know, I know, Fuckin Herb is just some “Do Gooder” who used to shoot heroin and smoke crack and blah blah fucking blah. But it’s so much bigger than that. I have experienced the ugly side of humanity, and now the beautiful side of it, and I want to share it with others in case they need to know that they’re worthy, capable, and amazing. Some people never get to hear that form anyone. I battle the disease of addiction 365 days a year. It’s all I do. And I want people to know that. That’s my skill, that’s my purpose, that’s my place in today. What’s yours? Share it. Do not be ashamed of the gifts and talents that God has blessed you with. Hone them in. Do not worry about getting better at the things and skills that you suck at- you suck at them remember? Strengthen your strengths, and let people see what an asset you can be. I’m a little off topic now, but I just flow. good thing I can type almost as fast as I think, depending on coffee intake for the day. But you get the idea right? I hope this is all making sense because I am not writing this one again. But the basic Idea is this:

We all make ripples. Whether we believe it or not. Don’t be shitty to the gas station lady because you’re running late. Don’t yell at your kids first thing in the morning- You may be sending an ugly snowball to school- ruin their morning and they’ll ruin someone else’s. Don’t flip the old lady behind the wheel ahead of you the bird, you’ll be old someday too, if you’re lucky. These are real world personal interactions that we make, most of the time- one on one. So think about the legacy, the mark, the impression, the impact that YOU can have with the device that you’re reading this on. We are in the midst of an era never seen before. And things are only moving faster and faster. One day, someone will look back on the stuff that were filling the internet with. That is going to be the back ground checks of the future. What will it reveal about you? It will essentially show yourself to you. We all have the opportunity to spread goodness, Humor, joy, positive vibes, etc… to the world. Or we have the power to do the opposite. Which will you choose? What will your legacy be? How will you help make someone’s day brighter? What goodness have you packed into the stream of life today? If someone were to use your internet and social media accounts as intel to write a book about your life, would you want anyone to read it? What’s your purpose, what will your digital footprint be?

Make. Good. Ripples.

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.