Invisible

To feel seen, to feel heard, to feel acknowledged by the most important people in our lives is one of the most important needs and feelings in a human being’s life.

Throughout my mental decline, increased drinking, down fall, and the further I dove into depression I constantly referred to myself as “Mr. Invisible”. I am not exactly sure where this idea came from to begin with, but it was a feeling that I had a lot. Sitting here now, I think the root of it began in my childhood. I think it stemmed from the fact that I always felt so voiceless, and “in the way”. I also think that it came from the fact that I had never really bonded with anyone on a deep level. I lacked so badly any form of deep human or emotional connection. From the time I was old enough to comprehend most things until recently in my life I felt very much alone. Lonely, even in rooms full of people.

I think that the way the human mind responds to things is really fascinating. When I first began this journey of mine that I am on now, when the first book dropped and things were taking off for me I felt really acknowledged for the first time in my life. People were reaching out to congratulate me, ask me questions, and pick my brain. I felt like I mattered. I felt seen. This would actually be one of the first tumbling blocks in my mental decline, looking back. Because what once was an unheard and unseen little boy, was now the same but in a grown man’s body, and garnering all sorts of attention and adulation. I had seemingly been shoved into the lime light. One lady at a book signing of mine told me I was “the talk of the town”. And that felt really foreign and uncomfortable, because I had never really experienced the feeling of true visibility before. It was awkward and I would just smile and say thank you.

The reason why this ultimately ended up becoming a negative force in my life, is that it left me with this need and desire for acknowledgement. In my first book there is a chapter called “just say yes” and it talks about how I would constantly say yes to new opportunities and new experiences that I would have previously declined. Although that was a great idea at the time, I had no comprehension of boundaries and certainly lacked the ability to enforce them; so the more and more I said yes for the sake of feeling needed the emptier and emptier my “cup” grew. It wasn’t long until I was basically dependent on that need to be needed for my own validation and fulfillment. And when I wasn’t receiving it, it reinforced my “old story” self, that no one wanted me around. It was kind of like this double edge for me, especially once the company was up and running. I love what I do, I love helping people who struggle with addiction. I believe it is my life’s work. My purpose. But I really lost my sense of true self in it all. If I wasn’t working and helping, then I felt empty inside, like no one needed me. So I continued to push and push to fit myself into the front lines, and stay visible. I pushed and chased and fought tooth and nail to make this company and this new life a reality so hard and so often that I completely neglected myself.

I became a martyr. This was my hill to die on. I did everything I could to “earn” people. My family included. I gave and gave and gave. And when I wasn’t getting the feedback that I wanted or thought I should, I felt slighted. I felt invisible again. Expectations are a lot more dangerous than we give them credit for. And they can often lead to very dangerous and ugly resentments. When I do not receive the feedback that I thought I deserved, the acknowledgement from friends, or family it reinforced that no one actually loved or cared about me, but that people were only using me for their own gain. And though I do have much evidence to support the latter, especially professionally, it does not apply to all people. This was the way that my brain had been wired since child hood, isolated incident + isolated incident = people and the world are bad. So I continued my quest for external validation. Even though my internal needs were growing and growing, and my own mental health required attention, there were suffering people out there who needed help and a family at home that needed me to provide for them. I could wait. I would deal with me later, as long as I took care of everyone else, I could manage. I was a full blown people pleaser. Something that is very common with those of us who have PTSD. The feeling that I need to earn love and acceptance with my family and society. But I mean, who could not understand that? I went from quite possibly the most chaotic childhood ever, to a decade + strung out on heroin and living on the streets, where no one would care if I lived or died; to suddenly being this important success story. It was the first time in almost 40 years that I actually felt like I mattered.

For what shall it profit a man, to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

I never really seemed to have any kind of authentic Identity. I just kind of seemed to get along as best as I could. So when I fell into this new world and felt like I finally had this opportunity to be someone, I went all in. I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance like this again, and I sacrificed my own well being in the process. I poured and I poured from a cup that had long since been empty. And the more I did this, the worse my mental health declined. The more the resentments grew. The more and more invisible I felt. I felt taken advantage of by everyone. And I was the culprit all along. It was because I lacked boundaries that I allowed myself to get eaten up like this. And the more and more the stress grew, the less I was capable to practice boundaries, and the more I resorted to just numbing it away. One beer at a time.

The less I was able to practice boundaries, the more I felt used. And the more I felt used, the more it reinforced my “old story” victim mentality. It was a very unhealthy lifestyle and feedback loop. If we live for people’s acceptance, we will die by their rejection. Even the thought that I was being rejected or that I was no longer needed hurt me deeply. I was spiraling so badly in my head.

So with all of the up and down craziness of 2020; the new home, Covid, Josh’s death, and all of the drinking and poor mental health, I was fucked. I didn’t stand a chance. I had already been hanging by a thread and losing my big brother was the final Kerplunk stick to be pulled. All the marbles came crashing down. It fully knocked me back into the old victim mentality. It was so interesting and scary. The trauma of my entire life had now been fully reactivated and it was like I was living the entire nightmare and shittiness of my life all over again and all at once. I was once again the old story Herb. The broken, bitter victim. I was hurt all over again, and hurt people hurt people. I was very unpleasant to be around. I couldn’t take another day inside my head. I was through even trying to be this success story. I had given it a solid run, but I was so exhausted and beaten down that I was ready to just finally check out. I was going to do it. I was gonna hang myself in the basement of our dream home. I had to write some letters to say my final goodbyes.

All I wanted was some relief. I don’t know if it’s delusion, or if it is part of this whole mental decline I was on, but I always felt like no one cared. I remember being on this hypervigilance trip where I was suspicious and paranoid about everyone. I couldn’t trust a soul. I was losing my mind, and growing more and more depressed by the day. In my own mind I was already this hypocrite fraud. I had already crossed a line I shouldn’t have when I started drinking, so that made me a piece of shit. I constantly felt invisible, in society, at home, with friends, and within myself. This depression I was under would not go away, and the only thing that helped was drinking and that was making it all worse. I was totally fucked. I had never in my life as an adult actually felt so lost, lonely, invisible, used, broken, afraid, and unwanted. And the one person who had always been there for me my entire life no matter what had just died. Josh could always see me. He could always hear me. He always made me feel acknowledged, like I was special. And now he was gone. So what was the point?

I sat there in our dream home, day in and day out. Doing my best to help people, being a husband and father, cutting the grass, trying everything I could to make sure no one else would ever have to feel like I have my entire life- completely unhealed, completely relapsed in my mental health; and ended up causing all kinds of pain and grief when all I wanted was to be a helper. And that furthermore reinforced that I was no good. That no matter what I do or how hard I try, I was always gonna be a piece of shit white trash, dope fiend, no good loser that people should have written off long ago.

So I started brain storming how and when I was going to do it. I wrote out my goodbye letters to my family and i began to muster up the courage to finally pull it off. I had decided that I was going to hang myself from the rafters in the basement ceiling with a couple doubled up dog leashes.

I simply couldn’t go on like this. I was so sick of hurting people.

No one would even miss me if I was gone. I was invisible, right?

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New Normal

We closed on our house, our dream home in March of 2020. The year of the Covid-19 Pandemic. I am sure many of you remember, but this was right at the beginning of it all. Toilet paper was a major commodity, as was Lysol. Things were becoming more and more tense throughout the world, and businesses were shutting down left and right. Our title company was no exception. We did the first ever “Road side closing” in the company’s history. My wife and I in our vehicle, as the buyers, and the couple who sold us the home in their car a few parking places down from us. Downtown Valpo was a ghost town. Most places were I am sure. The four of us, in two separate cars, joined by a conference call on our cells thumbed through paperwork signing on the dotted lines as we came across them. Our hard work was paying off. We were at the moment we had been waiting for for so long. I had been holding on mentally by threads for quite some time. Stressed to the max, spread incredibly thin, mental health in rapid decline, sustaining myself and my unhealed and overwhelmed mind with IPAs every chance I got. Today was supposed to be a day of great celebration and joy. And it was. But the fear had long since settled into my mind. And my fear based ruminating mind was here to stay.

It was hard enough before, on Kinsey street to keep my shit together. Now, we were going to be moving into a home that was going to cost quite a bit more monthly. Yes, it was indeed our dream home, and still is, but for a couple 30-somethings who, not long ago didn’t even have furniture to move into the first house, it was pretty overwhelming. For me at least. I had a hard time seeing the blessings and opportunities at this time, with the head space I was in. “Babe, everything is going to be fine. God didn’t bring us this far to only bring us this far.” She would tell me. “I know.” Sounds good. It was such a majorly overwhelming flood of mixed emotions.

We finished up the curb side closing and got the keys. Great, now we have to actually move everything into this house. Fuck. And let me tell you something, you want to know who your real friends are? Ask some people to help you move. Oh yeah, and we were in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic. Everyone was pretty much in the “We’re all gonna die” mindset at this point. And that alone provided every single person we asked to help with an excuse on why they couldn’t.

“Uh, gee, yeah, we would love to come help y’all move and all, but, ya know, Covid.” “Anyways, take care and stay safe during these uncertain times, congrats on the house!”

I swear if I never hear a commercial talking about “these uncertain times” again, it will be too soon. My God how I hated that phrase. Anyways, I guess you could say we were on our own. My wife and I, Jamie, and Connor. That was our man power. Oh, and I had never driven a U-haul before. So this should be fun. Somehow I was able to maneuver the 27 foot behemoth and get it backed into the Kinsey house. Let the moving commence. We busted our asses all day long. Box after box. Couch after bed after table. What once was an overgrown and non livable house, was now a home that we had cherished for years, and were now saying good bye to. We were leveling up. We were moving on to bigger and brighter things, during quite possibly the most dicey season in current world history. How fitting. New level, new devil. Or so they say. And they are almost always right.

Well I didn’t kill anybody driving the U-haul, so that was good. And we somehow managed to move the entire house in just two trips. My back was very happy when we sat the last of the second truck load into the garage. I couldn’t believe this, honestly. It was all so surreal, I was once a homeless strung out heroin addicted street person. And now we were moved into an absolutely beautiful subdivision home in valparaiso. I remember when I used to cut grass to get by, for 8$ an hour. I used to be so resentful and bitter when we would visit homes and neighborhoods like the one we just moved into. “These fucking perfect people with their great lives and wonderful jobs and childhoods. I fucking hate cutting grass for homes I’ll never be able to afford.” But I had hope, and something told me that if I just held on long enough that my day would come. And here it was. I was so happy and proud, and tired, and sore, and anxious, and overwhelmed, and worried. It was quite possibly the most blended, emotionally that I had ever been in my life. I was slowly losing my mind still. I was still untreated, I was still so hurt and traumatized deep down inside. It’s kind of like, once the fear and rumination had begun a while back, that my mind was kind of like this giant hour glass. And the sand was running every second of every day. Luckily for me, I had some cold beers to take the edge off. What a fucking wonderful Idea herb….

I don’t exactly remember for the sake of the timeline when the excessive drinking started. At this point, nothing had really been anything too worrisome, save for a couple nights getting a little mouthy. We just chalked it up to stress, or to being in a bad mood. Everyone has a rough go, a negative experience drinking once in a while. It was pretty much right about parallel with that. Nothing crazy. But I can look back on things now, and notice that there was a very concerning connection with the decline of my mental health, the amount and frequency of my drinking, and my overall presence and likability. I had already been in a pretty consistent mental decline, and this whole new stress plus Covid shit was not helping. It was really hard for me to enjoy anything. It was really difficult for me to explain to anyone when I tried. I had such an amazing and wonderful life, wife, family, and home, but for some reason, I just couldn’t seem to enjoy much of anything. I had been to counselors, I had tried medication. Nothing seemed to help. One of the doctors I saw diagnosed me as BiPolar and put me on Lamictal. That shit sucked. It instantly and consistently turned me into a zombie. I knew I wasn’t BiPolar.

What’s really interesting to me, is that I wasn’t always like this. I mean, when I was in drug court, the counselor I was seeing thought I had dysthymia, or “the blues” for many of the same reasons I was complaining about now. I believe that there is a direct link between stress, overthinking, and worry, and poor mental health. I may have very well stressed, worried, and overthought myself into a depression. It sure seemed like it at the time. It was unhealed trauma. It was borderline personality disorder. It has always been the trauma. I know that now It was PTSD. And chronic and intense distress are the absolute last thing that someone with PTSD needs to experience on a regular basis. Once my stress meter and distress compartments reached maximum levels, my mental health began to decline. The more and more I piled onto myself, the more stress I felt, and the worse I got. And the more I drank. Which in turn, raised my anxiety baseline, which drove me to drink more and more. This was not good. The more stress and distress my mind endured, the more anxiety and depression I experienced, the more alcohol I consumed, and the closer and closer I got to a full blown “split”.

Both wolves were being given food, but only one was getting fed.

We got settled into our new home really nicely. It was a dream come true. I remember how excited and proud everyone was that we had “made it”. Everyone had their own space. The house even had a hot tub out back, which we took advantage of right away! It was one of the best times in our lives. Sometimes through out the days, we would almost forget that there was a virus on the loose that was killing hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. Not really, but we tried to. Here we were, freshly moved into our dream home, and essentially quarantined right off the bat. The world was on lock down. Earth was closed. People were dying left and right all over the world. What was going to happen? My mind went to all of the worst possible scenarios, like always. This whole pandemic thing probably took some years off of my life. I had to appear strong and stoic for the family and be their protector, but I was losing my mind. Probably worse than most. Just my luck huh, finally turn my life around, make something of myself, get married and start a family, found a company and purchase a home, and then the world fucking ends. A’int that a bitch.

Spring was turning into summer, and there was no relief in sight. There was no relief in my mind. There was no relief on the news. We own a small business who’s whole mode of functionality is to meet with families, in large groups and in their homes to execute interventions. That certainly was not happening any time soon. Tiffany’s work had shut down, and sometimes she could work a little bit at a time from home. How would we pay our bills? Were we going to lose the home? How in the world could our timing be so truly bad, how was this all happening now? More stress, more fear, more worry more drinking.

We did our best to protect ourselves, we ordered food from the food delivery services when we could, and we Lysoled everything that came into our house. there was nothing I could do however, to protect my unraveling mind. Nothing I seemed to do helped. Everything was shut down except for essential places like gas stations, grocers, and liquor stores. We had basically no money coming in and the bills were not stopping. People were not able to perform their jobs, but yet the companies that called the shots did not cease sending bills. “Oh we’re in a global pandemic? Fuck you pay me.” God bless America. The stress that was building inside my already fragile mind was enough to weigh an elephant down. I continued to stuff it down. I continued to gut it out as best as I could. White knuckles on the daily, I did my best to put on a normal face and carry on. I had already been carrying around old dusty boxes of compartmentalized pains, traumas and memories for many years. I was running out of room inside my mind and my spirit was dimming. My fire was slowly burning out and so was I. The only thing that seemed to help was drinking. But the more I drank, the more it negatively effected me. And my family. I was spiraling, but I was doing my best to hold it together. People needed me.

Finally some relief came in the form of the stimulus checks, and some unemployment for the self employed, like myself. So that helped ease some of the worries. But the neurological damage had already been done. I was back in emotional dysregulation. I had full blown distress intolerance. All of this had piled up, and been accelerated by drinking to where I had reverted right back into my trauma brain. It felt like I was two people. I was fully double minded. This was dangerous as shit. Half of me was the husband, family man, home owner, helper, lover, giver, good person. The other half of me was the man I thought I had left behind, I was angry, I was drunk, I was distant and depressed, I was edgy, I was unapproachable, I was a loose cannon. I had fully split by now. Who you got on any given day was literally a coin toss. Jekyll and Hyde had returned. And this time, I had become so volatile that my mood literally flip flopped back and forth with little or no provocation at any given moment. Most of the time, I was out of my body. I was either back in the space shuttle, or still in the space shuttle. But I was disassociating again. My wife said she could see it in my eyes when I split. I usually have blue eyes, but when I would split, they would go black. It’s fucking scary I know. This is mental health. This is what trauma, PTSD, Borderline, Addiction, Alcoholism does and is. It’s not a fucking joke. My mind was gone.

Things seemed to somewhat level out in our space i guess. I mean, we were able to pay the bills and what not. So that was good. But we were still very much sequestered, as were millions around the world. We did our best to protect ourselves from the virus, but in spite of our best efforts the kids still got it. This was our first brush with the virus, but not our last. It was scary. We made their meals and set them outside the bedroom doors while they quarantined in their bedrooms. We freaked out, we prayed, we worried. I drank. It seemed to be the way that so many people in the world, and in our neighborhood handled the stress. Day drinking, night drinking, weekends, all the time. I was slipping further and further away. A bad night would happen where I was a flaming asshole, and then I would dial it back in for a while. And then again. The more I stressed, the more I drank, the more I had progressively worse anxiety, the more I drank, the more I got ugly. It felt as though I had completely split and was watching the whole thing happen in front of me. I was in full blown “Distress induced clinical impairment and cognitive distortions.” But I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. This is a term that I wouldn’t learn until later.

The summer came to an end, and the world did it’s best to get as close to normal as it could. Or, the “new normal”, another phrase I hate to this day. Virtual learning was the new thing, and work was non existent. We hung on and hung on. I drank more and more. I was still able to maintain though, somehow for the most part. We were still progressing as best we could. My wife and I have always had such an amazing partnership and team mindset. She has been the 80 and me the 20 for a vast majority of the last several years. I simply wouldn’t have made it through all of this without her. Especially with what lied ahead.

School had resumed virtually, and life on earth was adapting. It was nearing the end of the summer season. August was upon us. We made due like many families did, we stuck to ourselves and enjoyed as much outside time and fresh air as we could. We had been wrapping up a very status quo day in our home when my phone rang. It was my older brother, Josh. I always loved talking with him on the phone, he always brightened my day, “Whattttttt Upppppp boyyyyy? Whatchu doin man? He always began each and every phone call he made to me. And the small talk began. We talked about all the regular old stuff, all the “how’s life, how’s the wife” shit men talk about. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. And Josh proceeded to tell me that he had been having diarrhea for several days now, which again, was nothing really out of the ordinary. Men talking about their poops that is. I never thought anything of it. And neither did he. I believe he attributed it to something he had eaten recently, and that was that. We finished up our small talk and said our I love yous and hung up the phone. Life went back to life.

The next week, I believe on a Monday, Josh called me again. His work had mandated that everyone in the company take covid tests. Josh was an essential worker, as he worked for the City of Peachtree City. He had to be in the office, because they were the ones who kept the city running. And he had tested positive and was sent home until he got better. When he told me this, I was utterly shaken to my core. It was one of those moments when you can feel the world stop spinning, mouth runs dry, blood runs cold type moments. But I did my best to sound encouraging, and so did he. He indicated to me that he was symptom free, and other than the recent stomach issues felt top shape. He assured me I had nothing to worry about. I believed him. I checked in on him every day, and spoke with his wife as often. He was holding strong. No fevers, no cough, no issues.

His wife was nurse, and had been on the front lines of this thing the whole time. She knew what she was doing, what she was looking for, and how to handle it. He was in the best and most equipped and capable hands, and those hands loved him very much so he was double covered. She took care of him. She got him all kinds of vitamins and fluids and all the preventative measures were taken. She even had a pulse oximeter to check his vitals and oxygen. All was well. He was managing nicely. I did my best to be there for him, encouraging him and assuring him that he was gonna be fine. And he did the same for me. I was losing my mind over this, but I couldn’t let him hear it in my voice. Everything was going to be fine.

And about four days into it, four days after Josh testing positive, my phone rang. It was josh’s cell. He was calling to check in. It was not josh. It was his wife. My sister in law. Calling me to tell me that Josh’s oxygen had plummeted and he was spiking fevers and was being taken to a local hospital by ambulance to be admitted and cared for. I had no words. I had never been so scared, shocked, and paralyzed in my life up until this point. But once He got to the hospital, josh got his phone back and assured me that this was all just precautionary. “Shit I feel fine, Stevie. I’m good man, I don’t even feel sick. Don’t worry about me dude, I’m good man. I love you buddy I talk to you soon.” He sent me a picture of him in the hospital, with one of those oxygen hoses in his nose, duck lips out, showing the “peace sign” with his fingers. And it was the last time we ever spoke. He was gone less than 48 hours later.

My big brother, my protector, my male figure. He and carol drove from Georgia multiple times when I was in jail after being terminated from drug court, just to be at my court dates and visit me in jail. He was always my protector and best friend. He was everything to me since the day I was born. This simply could not be. My big brother. Was gone. He had lost his battle with covid. A piece of me died right along with him, and my life has never been the same. He died on August 29, 2020. My mother died on August 27, 2014. This was absolutely unreal. Why is life like this. We had so many plans and dreams, he had so much life to live, and he was snatched away from us. My mind and heart will never be the same. My, and so many others’ new normal was now to be somehow living life without the most wonderful man to walk this earth. His wife told me when he died that it was an honor to be loved by him. I know, because it was an honor to be his little brother. We loved each other so much. It still doesn’t seem real. More trauma. More sorrow. More woe. My heart and mind simply couldn’t process this. I was in shock.

It wouldn’t be long from here, that I would once again be bottoming out. I simply could not take any more. I felt like my own life was ending. I did not handle this well at all. More and more excessive drinking, deeper and deeper into depression I dove, more splitting, I was searching for blotto and oblivion. And I was about to find it.

Ism

noun: ism; plural noun: isms

A distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.” He loathed isms and any form of dogma”

Forming nouns denoting a pathological condition.

“alcoholism”

Ism. I. Self. Me.

It was 100% consequence free and seemed to be okay, pouring myself up that first IPA. I mean, I had been clean and chemical free for many years. I had never had any kind of real issues with alcohol, other than what I had outlined before in Junkbox Diaries; that it had always led me to other drugs. For some reason, here, now in that moment I knew it wasn’t going to lead to other stuff this time. In fact, then and now, you couldn’t pay me to put crack or heroin into my body. It had been completely taken off the table. Plus, it was strange, I would do these seminars and conferences with Social Workers, Therapists, Addiction Counselors, etc. and afterwards a vast majority would go out for drinks afterwards. So certainly, as long as I could limit it to just beer, and not allow it to lead elsewhere I would be fine. And I was. My family, friends, colleagues, many if not all of them enjoyed cocktails on the back deck, or drinks on the golf course, and all were well to do, professional family oriented types. This was fine. I mean, after all, we are the company we keep right? So a few beers with a buddy from church on the golf course, or with my family, or with my wife on the back deck was no big deal. And it wasn’t.

Time marched on. The business was growing, the family life was good. Birthdays, holidays, milestones, credit scores grew, bank account was healthy, relationships were solid. We were on our way to living the American Dream. The pursuit of happiness.

In spite of all of this, the pressure didn’t come off. The stress didn’t leave. The fear and rumination remained. And I had recently reintroduced a liquid solution into my body, which many of you know- Alcohol raises a person’s baseline anxiety. So the after effects of having some beers were horrible and lasting. My fears, worry, and stress were pretty much now full blown anxiety. As a person with addiction issues in the past, and what I now know to be diagnosed mental health issues of PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder as a result of the PTSD, this was not good. The slow burn had begun.

Initially, it was still all good, but the formula was there: Previous mental health and addiction issues, high stress professional life & pressure to perform, declining mental wellness, and increasing social acceptance & notoriety and ego + drinking. This was a very dangerous and potentially volatile formula compounding inside my mind and body. Even though I wasn’t drinking to excess or too frequently, yet, it had “opened the door” to once again using a chemical to cope. “To take the edge off”, and that’s one of the many things at the core of addiction. Escape. But nothing was or seemed problematic, so it was still all good.

We had both made a commitment to one another that we were going to be working towards buying our first house. We were both so excited and ready for the next step and so were the kids! This was a big deal! We were living the dream. We got married in October and my family from Georgia all came up to attend. My big brother Josh was my best man of course and it was the happiest day of my life up until that point. Judge Mary Harper, the same judge who had sentenced me to prison many years ago and made sure to include “Mr. Stepherson, if you are ever in front of me again, I am going to max you out.” when she did so married Tiffany and I. How funny, she wasn’t wrong, the judge, because the next time I was in front of her, she was “sentencing” me to a wonderful life through sickness and health with my best friend, my now wife Tiffany. My how things can change. I am a very lucky man, and felt so very much that way on that day in October. We had so many of our loved ones all together, celebrating our love with us. The sky was the most brilliant of purples and oranges over looking Lake Louise. We had a band and amazing food, a beautiful wedding cake and we were the center of the world for one day.

From there, we just continued on with our goals. We sacrificed in many great ways, pinching pennies and saving money. We prioritized working on our credit scores and monitoring our bank ledgers. We were focused. I was incredibly stressed out through the whole process. I have been incredibly stressed out for about 37 years, looking back. Pretty much the entirety of my life has been spent “On Edge”, according to my therapists. Such is life experiencing trauma and living with its aftermath I am told. But at the time of all of this, I just thought it to be a normal part of life. So onward we climbed. And I had already “broken the ice”, or “broken the barrier” so to speak with drinking beer; IPAs specifically, and it hadn’t caused any problems and was widely accepted by those around me, so it wasn’t made to be any kind of deal. Plus, I was this Author, Intervention Company Owner, Policy Writer, and expert on the subject matter; so I gotta guess that everyone around me assumed that I knew what I was doing and what was good for me. Every time I cracked one, or poured one up and “got away with it”, it inflated my ego, and reinforced my behaviors. As my dad once put it, “They (the world, cops, society, my family, whoever your ‘they’ is) can afford for you to get away with it 1,000 times, but we cannot afford to get caught or fuck it up once. And from a spiritual aspect of things, the devil, the negative forces of the universe, they want you to get away with it many times at first, that’s how we take their bate. We get comfortable in the getting away with it, and then they “set the hook”, if that’s what you believe. But anyways, my feedback loop was becoming more and more polluted and corrupted. But we were doing so well socially and professionally so no one batted an eye. Social acceptability does not equal recovery, and neither does professional outward success. ISM, Its Still Me. I am still what I was before all of this. That hadn’t changed. Time marched on.

But one thing that I can see now, as I look back on the way things all progressed is that from the time I began to enjoy my first adult beverages again two things happened: 1- I reopened those pathways in my brain and mind that are wired toward coping with a chemical. And 2- I was immediately convicted. I was immediately filled with shame, although quietly at first it was as if “Someone” inside of me (my conscience) was telling me, “You know you can’t go around recovery anymore, you fraudulent piece of shit.” And so I didn’t. How could I? And why should I? Everything in my life is going so exceptionally well, my life wasn’t unmanageable, and I wasn’t powerless over anything. If anything, I was more in control of my own life than I had ever been. And just like that, in those exact types of thoughts, I had completely disqualified and compared myself out of the recovery community. My oh my the power of our thoughts. And in that moment, in those trains of thought, I had begun separating myself from my support systems. And now, I had to go back into the isolation and secrecy of my new hobby, drinking.

But everything was still all good. I had no reason to worry. It’s not like shit was blowing up around me. My ego was alive an well. I had this shit totally under control. I was the master of my own destiny. We were about to buy a house, we had just gotten married, life was good, the kids were good, and we were kicking ass. But as my shame grew, as my isolation from my people grew, as a result of trying to stay low key about my lifestyle, my self esteem and self worth shrank and shrank. And with low self esteem and low self worth come low standards of living. This was about to be really bad, and I had no fucking idea. It wouldn’t be too terribly long and I would be writing suicide letters at the kitchen table and in the basement of our dream home. The very one we had worked so very hard to achieve. I had begun the process of losing my mind. And I had begun the process of a full blown alcoholic relapse, mental breakdown and total bottom. And with alcohol, it is such a slow and methodical burn. I had no fucking idea what was happening. I had completely separated myself from the world that I needed to be in, by drinking and with the shame and guilt that followed it. But my Ego, Pride, and status wouldn’t allow me to look at it for what it was. I was so self absorbed and self centered. It was so easy to trick myself, compartmentalize, and escape. But what I have learned recently, was that I wasn’t trying to escape my current life. I was still trying to escape my previous life, my trauma. Those unhealed parts of me from decades prior. They still lived in me. They don’t just go away because I worked some steps, wrote a book, and found God. We can’t shake our shadows, and we cannot change what has not been confronted. I was still very much at war with myself, it just looked different this go round. The more I continued to try and keep up with this kind of double standard in my life, the harder it became to hold it all together mentally. It wasn’t long until It was no longer a double standard, but a double life. A split was occurring in my life, and, in my mind. Each side of the split was battling for control of the show, vying for the stage and ability to call the shots. Shit was about to get real.

Inside all of us exist two wolves. Which one lives? The one you feed the most….

Living the dream. With regularly occurring thoughts of suicide.

ISM.

I. Separate. Myself.

Rise and Fall

We had really been on a miraculous turn around of our lives, and on an incredible trajectory. Everything we set out to accomplish we crushed. It’s really interesting too, because prior to all of this new found success, we were both really struggling independently in our own rights. But together we seemed to really kick some ass.

I would say that now we are right around our third year in the Kinsey House. I had previously been with two different intervention companies and was now working for a third. Each time that I had made a decision to move on, it worked out and proved to be the best decision for our family. Tiffany and I had been talking about me leaving the agency I was at at the time, and starting our own company. We believed that this would just be all around the smartest, and most logical move to make at that point. I had hours totaling close to 7,000 by this point, and had long since been pretty well established, educated, and experienced in the field. We had done countless interventions in all 50 states several times over.

We would talk about it, and then “put a pin in it”, talk about it again, and then “put a pin in it” again. I knew that deep down inside it was what I really wanted to do, but I was scared. Like terrified. I said “put a pin in it”, but looking back what I really did was procrastinate on it. Kick the can down the street. I think that in retrospect, this is when the fear began creeping back in. It was paralyzing at times. But eventually, the time came when I just knew that I had to do what I had to do- and that was take the leap of faith, take a risk, and trust that this is what I was supposed to be doing. My wife and I set a deadline for when I was to tell my current company that I was going to be leaving. It came and went. Ugh! I just couldn’t seem to pull the trigger on it. I was completely gripped in the fear. So I did all of the “behind the scenes stuff” first. I went ahead and began building the company, unofficially, so that it would be a smooth transition once I finally did part ways with my current employer.

We started by filing with the Secretary of States office and all of the paperwork that came along with that. We hired an attorney to be with us throughout the development of the company, who is still with us today. We built a website. We created logos and cards and fliers and got ourselves ready to launch the second the severance was official. All of the ground work had been done, and there was nothing else to grasp at in the way of excuses not to finally just take the leap. I was so stressed out. What if it all failed? What if it all fell apart? What would we do if this was the wrong move? This is definitely when the fear returned into my mind. I couldn’t sleep most nights. When I did sleep, I had awful dreams. I had dreams about all of the worst case scenarios that were undoubtedly heading our way once we did this. I ruminated on this decision for weeks.

Finally, I just couldn’t take the stress of it any longer. I knew it was passed time to get on with it. So I made the phone call and let the company know that I was resigning. To my surprise it went a lot better than I thought it would. I suppose the fear of a situation is often times worse than the situation itself. I was quite relieved indeed. But the fear was still there, it had just morphed into other ruminations.

It wasn’t that I doubted my own abilities, it was that I had never been fully and totally self sufficient before. It was time to man up, we were now small business owners and the success or failure of this company was going to be 100% on our shoulders. It was liberating and terrifying at the same time. My wife was so supportive and encouraging through the whole process. She would always remind me that God didn’t bring us this far to only bring us this far. And it always sounded good, and briefly made me feel better, but it didn’t seem to take the pressure off. The amount of pressure that I now felt on a daily basis was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.

I can imagine that everyone wants to work from home, myself included but, working from home brought about a whole new day to day, and list of difficulties for me. I could tell right off the bat that this new way of life was going to require a tremendous amount of discipline and self made structure. I went from working 40+ hours weekly in an office with several other humans, to working from home completely alone and isolated from human interaction for 40 hours a week. This was a major shock to my system, especially since I am such an outgoing and sociable person. My little joke, when talking to people about the new venture was “everyone wants to work from home, until they work from home”. And I believe that. I have now been working from home for about five years, and it is not as easy as one might think. But anyways, back to then. At first, I seemed to adjust alright I guess. Or so I thought at the time. I spent many hours each week, marketing and “banging the drum” so to speak. The first few months were not easy. It wasn’t long into this, that I began to doubt that this was the right decision to make. The phone didn’t ring. No matter what I seemed to do, it had become eerily quiet. The fear began to build.

I think it was about three solid months that we didn’t generate any business. Nothing. I spent the days sending emails, following up, dropping into various places throughout the region doing my best to stay visible and available if someone needed us to help. Nothing seemed to make a difference. I was becoming more and more stressed out by the day. The pressure was building and building. Fear followed me around like a long black shadow. It had really started to take over my mind. I was so hyper focused on growing the company. I was obsessed. Obsessed, full of fear, overwhelmed with pressure, stressed out nearly all the time, I felt like I was chasing my tail. Perhaps I needed to just swallow my pride, and ask my former employer for my job back. Maybe this was all a mistake.

It’s very strange though, the duality of the mind, I knew and could feel that this is what I was supposed to be doing but, nothing was working. The only thing that was happening was, we were falling further and further into debt, and I may have been developing an ulcer. The fear grew. The pressure built up. The rumination continued. I found myself pacing the floor of the house to the tune of miles a day I would guess. I talked to Reba as if she were a person. Think Ace Ventura telling Spike the monkey that he couldn’t feed him until he found Snowflake the Dolphin. When we got Luna, our little Gremlin ass Boston Terrier I talked to her too. I don’t think those dogs know or understand how much they have done for me. My mental health was declining.

Recently, I have learned that for those of us with PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder, immense amounts of stress is an absolute destroyer. Plus, keep in mind, I was at that point in time 100% untreated. Yes, I was clean, I was sober, I had been so for quite some time. I had done CD&A (Chemical Dependency & Addictions) Program in the Porter County Jail a couple years prior, I had spent a year at the halfway house, and I had been to thousands of meetings and worked the steps. I had been through the Great Banquet, so my Faith had recently been reignited and I had a working knowledge of recovery and of staying the course. But I was still very much untreated. I had never been to an actual treatment program. For those of you who have read my first book you know that. I couldn’t get into one. I didn’t have insurance and I was poor. So I didn’t matter to treatment centers. I was a have not. It was always, “We will put you on the list and call you.” They never called. So I utilized what I had, whatever the State of Indiana mandated that I do.

Looking back on things, this is when the “Kerplunk Sticks” began to be pulled, one by one. Fear and stress became my way of life. I was able to finally get the company going and we were getting busy. But here is a very interesting point about me at this time: I was unhealed from an entire life time of trauma and drug addiction. My mind had not ever been able to fully process everything that had transpired, and I certainly hadn’t had any kind of real professional help. When the fear, stress, rumination and etc returned to my brains pathways they stuck. It was like I had reverted right back into that old chaos and trauma repetition. Even though the company had begun to take off, and my family life had been going really well, it didn’t matter. The fear, paranoia, stress, and rumination had already gotten in on a deep level and were not leaving. My entire mindset had changed and was changing still, going in the opposite direction it was supposed to be going. And what’s crazy about all of this, is I couldn’t see it. I thought that stress, and all that I was experiencing is a normal part of owning a small business, and it is. But I had yet to be fully diagnosed, and I had no idea what was going on inside my mind. I couldn’t see it. I thought that all of this was just part of the deal. I think, looking back I have a couple ideas about this: 1- I was still disassociated from childhood the whole time, to some degree. And 2- this is when I began splitting. I am not entirely sure on this, but either/both would make sense. But I just held on. White knuckles and all.

I know how this may sound to some, “First world problems”, and “must be a tough life” are a couple phrases that come to mind. I am not complaining. I never was. I am just trying to express what was going on at the time. What’s more though, what’s even more important and more impactful than all of the pressure, and stress and etc., is that I had stopped taking care of myself.

Life is a shifty and intricate dance of balance and circumstances. It’s really easy to lose sight of certain things sometimes. You see, The Devil, the Negative Forces of this world, they come disguised as everything you ever wanted. And as my friend said to me in the car that night “Everything my recovery was blessing me with, indeed my addiction was using against me.” My therapist and I went over this in treatment. She called it “Dealing with Immediates.” It is also known as being “task oriented”. I became enamored with the grinds of life. I became preoccupied with rebuilding my life, which is a good thing. But balance is so very important, and I had no concept of balance at the time. Part of the trauma brain is all or nothing thinking, black/white thinking, handle tasks, stay busy.

“Our addictions always resurfaced or continued to progress” (taking on many different forms) “until, in desperation we sought help.” It’s true. I had essentially relapsed on work, on chasing the American Dream, on building credit. I know that may sound crazy, but think about this, isn’t addiction all about escape? It is. And I was losing myself in my work, I was losing myself in the “Task,task,task” and didn’t even know it. I was not losing myself to escape my current life at the time, my life was going awesome! I was immersing myself in work, I was escaping into the tasks, I was dealing with the immediates to escape my unhealed parts of my past. Unknowingly to me. Subconsciously, I was right back into the patterns of “losing self”. And even though we were succeeding and doing all kinds of good things, and we were helping a lot of people, all of those “right now tasks” or “Immediates” took my focus off of what I should have been doing all along. Which was healing.

Now, there I was; a workaholic, under immense amounts of pressure (mostly self inflicted), fear driven and unhealed mind, escaping my untreated traumas the way I always had- by losing myself in something, only this time not chemicals, but work and dealing with the immediate tasks that life brought about, AND receiving all kinds of accolades, acknowledgements, and adulation for my efforts, which reinforced that I was on the right track. And here came the ego. The mind is truly the most fascinating place in the entire known universe to me.

The ego can be a defense mechanism for so many of us, especially those of us with troubled pasts, and low self esteem. It certainly is for me. It seems like the lower my self esteem, the bigger my ego. It also seems like the tougher the circumstances, the more difficult things become around me, and inside my head, the more my ego tries to shield me from harm. My mental health was declining. I was stressed out all the time, I was fear based in my thoughts, I ruminated often. I was isolated. I was overwhelmed and very much “in the weeds” as many of my restaurant people may relate. But life, on the outside of things was full of accomplished goals, and of outward successes. So my ego continued to inflate with every pat on the back. And with every new upcoming obligation, bills that were due, birthdays on the horizon, and all of the stuff that life brought to our door, my sense of self and mental well being continued to deflate. My mental health was in rapid decline, but the circumstances of my life, of our life were in rapid incline. How in the fuck does that work? It was so confusing and overwhelming for me.

You see, I didn’t go about my days thinking about my past life, and all of my past traumas. I had spent decades learning how not to think about that stuff. But it lives in side of us. It is a noun. A thing. My brain, mind, spirit, and heart were wired and tattooed with it. It touched and affected everything I did. What we resist, persists. And it was all still festering inside my mind. Because I had never actually and fully confronted it. I was unintentionally and unknowingly still relying on my broken and traumatized mind to handle my new life and all of the shit it was bringing my way. I was still utilizing the same mind and the same tools and mechanisms I once did; the ones I used that turned me into a heroin addict. Stuff it down, brush it aside, work-work-work, ruminate, white knuckles, lose myself in dealing with tasks, Instant gratification, Ego, external validation, etc. I thought I was recovered? Why was I still feeling like this? Why was I still detaching? Am I back in the space shuttle, or am I still in the space shuttle? I began slipping away.

The credit scores went up, my mental health went down. Ego did it’s best to protect me, but my self worth and esteem declined. I was falling back into my default mechanisms. My trauma brain, my addict brain was taking the controls again. People didn’t even know or notice until much later, because I was performing in life so well. For all intents and purposes, I was killing the game. But I was dying inside my mind. I was totally blown and overwhelmed now. Totally robotic. Autopilot. But I was supposed to be this awesome success story, how is this happening? So I stuffed it down. I swallowed the pain. I trudged on. I compartmentalized. I disassociated. My ego grew, and my self esteem shrunk.

Poor me.

Poor me.

Matter of fact, pour me up one of those.

Everything my life and recovery had blessed me with, had been used against me.

“Recovery gives us a life that takes us away from recovery.”

Pour me another one.

Midas

“Herb, let me tell you something young man. I want you to listen to me when I tell you this; everything that your recovery blesses you with, your addiction will try and use against you.” – An older gentleman to me, on our way home from a meeting many years ago. He was right.

Ya know, it’s funny, you write one book, and everyone thinks you know what you’re talking about. And I do. It’s just, I don’t know, being a published author, especially when it pertains to the subject matter of addiction and mental health, it puts one in a precarious position. It’s like, all of a sudden that, and the field I work in some how gave many people this idea that I was somehow cured or some shit. Like I had some kind of answers. All I ever did was share my experiences, and do my best to be a good person and a helper.

Life absolutely took off for me, once the book dropped and I began my work in intervention. It all happened so fast. It was like a blur. Offers were coming in from all over the place. Come speak in Idaho, Come to Southern Indiana, be on this radio show, this podcast, Etc. I was contacted by celebrities, newspapers, politicians, families in need of help, churches, radio stations, T.V. You name it. It was like a dream come true. And it has been. With some exceptions, of course, I wouldn’t change it. But let me tell something right now, every gift has a cost.

Tiffany and I moved in together once I left the halfway house, I was working at the first intervention company, and we were just riding the wave. You wanna talk about “Started from the bottom, now we’re here”? That was us. We took over a home on Kinsey Street in Valpo. We had no furniture, no beds, no dressers, very few of our own clothes; and the house was absolutely trashed. The last 5 or 6 weekends while I was at the halfway house, we spent getting the house ready and livable. The yards were horribly overgrown, the inside of the house looked like a trap house. We worked tirelessly getting the place ready, and when we moved in, all we had was a few bags of clothes, some blankets and pillows, and a couple donated wicker chairs and a wicker table. We made a pallet on the floor and slept there the first several weeks. Over time, we accumulated the stuff we needed. A donated T.V., small sectional, kitchen table, dishes, etc. I worked at the intervention company, and she worked for a nurses’ agency. We were grinding. Things were an absolute blur. Kids, School, an hour commute to and from work for me every day, book signings, birthdays, speaking engagements, TEDx, travel. We were cookin. Meetings, sponsorship, probation meetings, family trips, new piece of furniture, we got a dog. Reba, she is the sweetest. She’s an all white with blue spots and one floppy ear Pitbull and she’s my second best friend. My wife is my first.

Life simply could not have been going any better. We were two determined love birds. We were ascending. Tiffany had been an underdog story herself in her own right. A single mother of three, doing the best she could working, cooking, being a mom, all that comes with that. I was just a fucking disaster when we met. But, we have somehow continued to make it work, through thick and thin. When we first got together, I didn’t even have a bank account. I opened my first checking account at Centier with fifty bucks, when I was working at the insurance agency. From there it was baby steps, in the right direction. Little by little we climbed. Sometimes we had to over draft an account to pay a bill, sometimes we didn’t. We were determined to succeed. And we loved each other very much.

I had so much going on, I didn’t know if I was coming or going half the time. I had all of my, what I now know to be “Professional Life”- Intervention, Book signings and speaking engagements, writing, appearances, meetings, etc. I had all of the personal life stuff, Wife, kids/step kids (We weren’t married yet, but we all lived together and it was pretty obvious that this is where it was headed, I hoped so at least), Baby Momma Drama, and all the bullshit that came along with that. Court hearings, etc. And I did my best to squeeze in some “Me Life”- Meetings, sponsorship, journaling, etc. It all seemed so surreal. Days passed by sometimes quickly sometimes slowly, but where oh where did the months and years go?

We were laser focused. One day I decided to get myself a secured credit card, the type you have to pay 250$ for and Discover gives you a card with a 250$ limit. A beginners credit card, to start building credit. That was my very first piece of the american dream right there. We were determined. Our conversations were ambitious, and driven, they were very goal oriented. Our first year at the kinsey house was amazing. We hung out in the back yard when we could, we went for drives, we took the kids to do fun stuff. We traveled all over. Tiffany and I flew to Arizona, then Washington, and drove into Idaho; I had been paid to come and give a key note speech for the Idaho Juvenile Justice Association. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Driving down through Eastern Washington, all the hills, mountains, and geography were just breath taking. Massive combines glided through rolling hay fields, kicking up giant clouds of dust that were cut through by setting sun rays, and back dropped in bright pinks and purples. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. We adventured out into the local towns exploring. I remember this lake, it was as smooth as glass and as clear as a diamond. The only thing that came cutting through it was the Washington State Row Team, practicing out on the water. This was all just too good to be true.

We got our first Christmas Tree as a family, We financed our first car, We celebrated birthdays and we continued to climb. I thanked God every single night for delivering me from such a horrible previous life, to such an amazing one. I was so proud.

It was really easy to keep busy during these times, because there was always so much going on. There was always a task to handle, there was always somethings to be done. And we did them well. A secured card credit card turned into multiple credit card offers, which turned into multiple credit cards, which turned into a rising credit score. I utilized the marketing skills I learned at the insurance company with the intervention company. I was learning as much as I could as fast as I could, after all, I was at a disadvantage already and had a lot of time to make up for. I had to pin my ears back, put my head down, and go. And that is exactly what I did. I was a workaholic. I was locked in. I was Dad, Step Dad, Interventionist, Author, Boyfriend/Fiance’, Dog Dad, Speaker, Brother, Friend, I was living the dream. We were living the dream.

I was always working. It was annoying to some I am sure. But, how was I to waste such a beautiful and wonderful opportunity? The position I had found myself in allowed me to do what I had always wanted to do, help others. It was a double blessing that I got to support my family while doing so. We were on top of the world. Phone calls, emails, conference calls, hikes, cook outs, bills, life was chugging along. I continued to say yes to everything. Key Note speech- yes. Interview for news paper- yes. Give a talk at a church- yes. Book signing at Barnes and Noble-yes. It seemed like the more I said yes to, the more the opportunities came. We couldn’t miss.

We went from a pallet on the floor with no other furniture, to a fully furnished house, and a new to us car in the drive way. We were making it. Task, task, task, goal, goal, goal. Work ,work, work. God was really smiling on us. I had attended the Indiana Dunes Great Banquet, and so had Tiffany. We were really growing at a rapid pace. Before we knew it, we were in our second year at the Kinsey house. What a blur. We were knocking off the old collections accounts on our credits from the previous years, when we both struggled independently. Together we thrived. We had her three children, and we had Luke as often as possible. We would enjoy home cooked meals together and family game nights. We did smores in the back yard, and we went to Indiana Beach. We were all so happy.

One Friday evening, I had to make a run over to the local gas station for some smokes and fuel in the Envoy. Tiffany asked me to grab her a few scratch off tickets, which I always thought were a waste of money. But, begrudgingly, I said I would. I had my feet up on the ottoman while watching the news and she scratched at the tickets with a coin. I sipped my coffee and dazed off at the talking heads on the screen, when she interjected the silence with a loud “BABE!” “What, 30 dollars down the drain, babe?” “Bullshit, I just won 5,000$!!!” She screamed. I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen anyone win anything on those damn things. But there it was, right in front of my eyes. She sure as shit did. Like I said, we just couldn’t miss. It was a winning streak of life like nothing I had ever experienced. We used most of it to pay bills, and to pay credit cards off, and we used a piece of it, to purchase Chicago Bears’ playoff tickets. It was both of our very first time seeing the bears play. It was one of the best days of my life. We didn’t get the win, as I am sure you know, this was the infamous “Double Doink” game. But it was an experience unlike any other. We even met Travis Kelce. He was there watching his brother play, who is on the Eagles.

It’s crazy how everything was happening. I mean, I had never experienced anything like this in my life. What a plot twist. I had gone from lost soul, heroin addict to all this. It didn’t seem real. Oh, but it was. Life had become such a wonderful adventure of tasks to be handled and goals to accomplish. I had sent a copy of my book to the White House, and Donald Trump sent me back a hand signed thank you card that I still have to this day. This was right around the time He had donated his quarterly salary to combat the opioid epidemic, and I had sent him a book as a thank you. It was awesome to get a had written thank you back from the President. I mean, how many people can say that in their life time? I was offered a new and better position at another Intervention firm, and then another. Progress after progress, success after success, step up after step up. One beautiful evening on a Pier in Hilton Head, South Carolina I found myself down on one knee proposing to Tiffany in front of her whole family and a bunch of strangers. It was amazing and she said yes. We were both so happy and on top of the world. It was the best day of my life to that point. I hope it was to her as well.

We were killing the game. It seemed as though everything we touched turned to gold. I also had the amazing and incredibly stressful privilege of giving a TEDx Talk at Valparaiso University. “The Myth of Rock Bottom” is what it was called. And the overall Idea of it is how we can always bottom out again, even after what we think is our rock bottom. We can always dig another one. A’int that the truth? My oh my, how foreshadowing that was indeed.

Affinity

Once I made the choice to compromise, to roll the dice and pick up a cigarette and it did what I didn’t know it could do, I was instantly obsessed with what else there was out there that could do it too. I quickly moved on to alcohol, weed, every other chemical I could get my hands on, and as detailed out in the first book, ultimately Crack and Heroin. My experiences with trauma were still very much ongoing, and in a sense just getting started. The traumas that lie in wait for me in the world of addiction though, were to be very much self induced. I came from chaos, so as my life in the addiction world unfolded, I would continue to gravitate to more and more chaos. This is what one of my therapists referred to as “Trauma Repetition”. The whole “Comfort in Chaos” idea. And down, down, down the spiral we would go…

As I believe I had mentioned before, somewhere I’m sure; I always seemed to have this inherent affinity for the “Underdogs” of the world. I think it is because from a very early age, and as a result of everything I had been through, I knew suffering. I knew what it felt like to be invisible, unheard, insignificant, brushed aside, neglected, abandoned, and essentially thrown away. So I always felt this kind of like Survivor’s Bond with similar types in movies, T.V, sports, and in real life.

I remember the first time I watched Forrest Gump. I was absolutely blown away. This man had had the most incredible and interesting life, even though he had been born with so many disadvantages and had so many obstacles thrown at him. He was born with a learning disability, a back as “crooked as a politician”, without a father, He was named after the Founder of the K.K.K, He was bullied, beat up, Invisible to most, ignored, he was taken for granted and taken advantage of, he was shot in the ass, the woman he loved always left him, no one liked him. He was very much an outcast of society. But the thing that really made him special to me, was his innocence, his integrity, his humility, his giving nature, his loyalty to friends, his moral compass. Someone must have planted the right seeds in his heart, because they went on to become very fruitful later in life. And the thing that really stood out to me about him, was that he never really did anything over-the-top spectacular. He just always did the right thing. And that was all he ever really needed to do.

It’s funny how this world works. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. And when I was so desperate and lost as an adolescent, with no real mentorship or examples on how to live and do life. I was able to find messages, I was able to learn, I was able to feel meaningful life lessons in the most unusual of places. It’s kind of like I knew deep down inside that If I was going to somehow make it out of all of this, than I better take on a heart that was hungry for wisdom, and be able to recognize it when I heard it.

Forrest Gump, and stories like His (I know he is a fictional character) provided me with great inspiration. I knew that I too, was at a disadvantage in life. The cards were truly stacked against me. School and college weren’t much of an option to me. I just knew that deep down inside, if given the opportunity, I could go on and be somebody some day. All I had to do was do my best to be a good person. I knew I was gonna fail at that even, at times. But, if I just truly followed my moral compass, and held on long enough, one day I would get my chance. And that, and lots and lots of prayer and faith- seeds that were planted in me, in second grade in Tennessee gave me unwavering Hope. Even in the most hopeless of times.

It’s crazy, the dichotomy or duality of the mind. I would go on to become a homeless, strung out street person for many years. But through it all, I always held on to hope. I just knew if I never gave up, one day I would be able to finally turn it all around. And I was right. It just didn’t happen quite like I thought it would, and had.

When God calls us to our purpose, remember that He has already factored in our foolishness.

PTSD/BPD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of

the following ways:

Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).

Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others.

Presence of one (or more) of the following intrusion symptoms associated with the traumatic

event(s), beginning after the traumatic event(s) occurred:

Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that

symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event(s).

Marked physiological reactions to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an

aspect of the traumatic event(s).

Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning after the

traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by one or both of the following:

Avoidance of or efforts to avoid distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely

associated with the traumatic event(s).

Avoidance of or efforts to avoid external reminders (people, places, conversations, activities,

objects, situations) that arouse distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely

associated with the traumatic event(s).

Negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning

or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the

following:

Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event(s) (typically due to

dissociative amnesia and not to other factors such as head injury, alcohol, or drugs).

Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the

world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous,” “My

whole nervous system is permanently ruined”).

Persistent, distorted cognitions about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event(s)

that lead the individual to blame himself/herself or others.

Persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame).

Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities.

Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.

Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (e.g., inability to experience happiness,

satisfaction, or loving feelings).

Marked alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event(s), beginning

or worsening after the traumatic event(s) occurred, as evidenced by two (or more) of the

following:

Irritable behavior and angry outbursts (with little or no provocation) typically expressed as

verbal or physical aggression toward people or objects.

Reckless or self-destructive behavior.

Hypervigilance.

Exaggerated startle response.

Problems with concentration.

Duration of the disturbance

is more than 1 month.

The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or

other important areas of functioning.

The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g.,

medication, alcohol) or another medical condition.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and

marked impulsivity, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as

indicated by five (or more) of the following:

Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating

between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex,

substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).

Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.

Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria,

irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).

Chronic feelings of emptiness.

Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper,

constant anger, recurrent physical fights).

Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

Compromises

If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Fitting in is the opposite of belonging. If we don’t have a sense of belonging, then we will attempt to fit in where we definitely do no belong. Water seeks it’s own level; low self esteem, and low self worth create low standards.

Ain’t that the truth?

I actually settled into Valparaiso quite well, once the awkward newness fell away. I knew that I would have an in to make some friends no matter what, and that in was baseball. But this world that was Valpo, as we call it for short was a little different than the other towns I had experienced. Here, the kids who played sports were the cool kids. I certainly did not consider myself cool at all. Hell I didn’t even know what cool was. I actually had no idea who I was at all. I had like zero identity, zero direction, and zero sense of self. I basically felt like I had just emerged from 12-13 years of absolute chaos- like that of an Atom Bomb explosion. Giant mushroom cloud erupts, death all around me, screams, cries for help, chaos and panic everywhere, and then I emerge a complete and total stranger to myself. Like I had just appeared, with only the painful memories from the explosion left inside of me. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, or where I belonged. Totally banged up from it all.

I had only what I could carry remaining; trauma, shame, guilt, insecurities, fear, loneliness, self pity, an inner child that never felt good enough, worthy, valued, or noticed, a desire to feel like I mattered, and a love for baseball. (Not a victim stance, not Hyperbole. This is where I was in life). I was so inside my own little world so often, that, I know it’s hard to explain, but looking back, I was never fully present. I escaped with everything. Music, riding my bike, baseball, movies, T.V. I really do believe that I was fully disassociated for most of my life. Just kind of floating along all accidental like on a breeze. I would think about my life up until then often. I would remember back to all of the ugliness and pain that I endured. I remember many times actually pondering on my life, and actively probing myself. So, Stevie, this is what you have experienced up until now. What are you going to do about it? That type of stuff. Thank God that I did have people intermittently throughout my life who believed in planting seeds. For without them, it would have been incredibly easy to just become what the world had tried to make me into. A cold hearted, scorned, spiteful, hateful, resentful, mean spirited person. But I wasn’t going to allow that to happen. I had seen some really kind heartted things, in spite of the chaos and trauma that ensued. And I just knew that when I was given the chance, I was going to be a difference maker one day. I knew that deep down inside I was a good person. I was just dealt a really shitty hand, and one day soon I would be able to step out on my own, if I could just hold it together one day I would get my chance.

So I just kind of went through the motions as best as I could I suppose. I played baseball and I had a couple friends that I rode bikes with all over town. Immediately after school, if I didn’t have practice, and all weekend long, if I didn’t have games. I was gone. I was out of the house with my buds riding bikes all over Valparaiso. Sometimes we would go fishing and sometimes we just hung out at a friends and played video games. I never said no to a friend asking me to hang out. It made me feel good. It made me feel like I fit in somewhere. And that ended up blessing me with friends from all over the “grid” so to speak. The jocks who played sports, because I played sports, the kids who once rode my bus, but now ride bikes to school, so now I rode my bike to school too. The couple buddies of mine who loved WWF wresting like I did. A couple buddies who loved fishing like me, and a couple buddies who loved video games. I was constantly trying my hardest to always be on the go, and to always be “in” somewhere. I had no actual consistent group of friends, with but a couple exceptions. But even those friendships drifted apart eventually. And this is why I feel like my first “drug of choice” was Acceptance.

Acceptance from friends. Feeling seen. Feeling like I fit in somewhere. This was a very dangerous thing for me, looking back, because couple that with low self worth, which equals low standards, and couple that with little to no moral compass or direction in life and I now stood for basically nothing. So I would fall for anything. Does that make sense? Like, throughout everything that had happened so far, I still somehow managed to come out very naive. Lack of mentorship and guidance will do that to ya. Plus couple that with growing up in chaos, which left me with this innate need for “adventure”, which is actually the ‘comfort in chaos’ response to it all and I was fucked. It was only a matter of time until just the right “carrot on a stick” was dangled out in front of me.

I have heard a lot of people throughout my life say this exact phrase over and over again: “I believe I was an addict before I ever even used a drug.” I myself have said this countless times, and every time I shared it amongst other addicts it was received with head nods of agreement. But what does that mean, and how can that be? I think what that phrase really means is probably something like this: “I suffered through extensive trauma throughout my life, and the very first time I used a chemical it worked. It numbed me and took away the pains. It was a remedy I found that I hadn’t known I was looking for, and I was hooked on mind and mood altering chemicals ever since. Anything that gave me a head change is what I wanted. I had previously used other outlets to escape and self medicate, but once I found drugs and alcohol, why, self medication just became so much easier.” Yep. I think that’s it.

So as you can see, I hope; I hope I have painted a pretty accurate picture of who and what and where I was. I was on a collision course with addiction and didn’t even know it.

Traumatized and violated kid, Naive as shit, need for acceptance, ongoing need for escape, no sense of belonging. Just wanting to fit in. Always on the go. Hardly ever home, unless it was to sleep. No sense of self or identity. No direction. Hardly any kind of moral compass, although I did know right from wrong. No boundaries or understanding of boundaries. A people pleaser. A tag along. I was prime for the pickin’ when the time would come. And it would.

Time marched on. I stayed on the go. Different friends seemingly every weekend, to the point where my parents couldn’t even keep up. Baseball friend, bike buddy, video gamer, this part of town, that part. Rich friend, poor friend. Etc. I was constantly chasing and moving. Always trying to be in the mix as best as I could. What I know now, that I so clearly did not know then is that I was trying to fill a void. I was trying to fix my insides with external validation and influence. I also know now, that then, I certainly would have benefited from extensive amounts of therapy. but, as it goes, hindsight is 20/20. Life can only be lived forwards, and understood backwards. That’s just the way it goes.

I hated cigarettes as a child. I hated cigarettes as an adolescent. Everything about them disgusted me. The way they smelled, the way the butts accumulated in ash trays, the ash. The way they made smokers’ voices sound. Everything. they grossed me out. I hated that my parents smoked cigs. When I was riding in the car with my folks, and they would smoke I would always ask them to roll the windows all the way down, because I didn’t want to smell like the smoke. It was nasty and I could never understand why someone would want to indulge in such a gross and self destructive habit. I was actually embarrassed at times that they smoked. I don’t know, I had grown up around smokers all my life and the idea of it was just nasty. I remember vowing to myself as a child that I would never smoke a cigarette as long as I lived. I hated them that much.

Ya know, it’s crazy how people have so many different isms, needs, morals, and values. Sometimes we are willing to compromise one for another. Like the idea that Americans are lazy, but the only thing that outweighs our laziness is our greed. Case in point, at Walmart, there are grocery carts strewn all over the parking lot, but not at Aldi. Because us lazy Americans will damn sure walk that cart back to the cart return to get that fucking quarter back. A fucking quarter. But I digress. The point that I am getting to here, is that I absolutely hated cigarettes, but I absolutely needed and loved feeling like I fit in somewhere. And eventually the time came, when I was with my bike riding friends, I think maybe I was in 8th grade, going into 9th when I was offered my very first cigarette. Something was gonna have to give here. And because I had such low self esteem and self worth, I was essentially defenseless. I had found myself in a situation that was “low standard”, but I had low self worth, so I lost. It was too easy for me to give in. I had no reason not to. I didn’t love myself enough to say no. Something was about to be compromised.

Do I stand on my moral, do I stand on my vow to myself that I will never smoke a cig. as long as I live, and risk losing a friend? Or do I take the cigarette and gain some much needed style points from this group of friends? Decisions decisions. Well, I took the cigarette immediately, because I certainly wasn’t going to lose my friends and end up stuck back at home more, that was the very place I was trying to avoid. Light me up!

I fucking hated it. The smell, the taste, it made me feel physically sick. I remember having to sit down, because it made me so damn dizzy and I remember my friends laughing at me because of it. Not in a making fun of me way, but in a “I remember my first beer” kind of friendly rubbing. It was gross. “Don’t worry dude, you’ll get used to it.” I was told. But why the fuck would anyone want to get used to this? I got about halway through my first cigarette. A Camel Menthol Light, and the buzz of the toxic smoke had really began to set in. I was in love. Unknowingly to me, this was exactly what I had been searching for. A chemical escape. It was so easy! It was damn near effortless. All I had to do, was light a smoke, inhale and it gave me a head change, and all of my cares, worries, fears, doubts, insecurities, and pains all just melted away. It was like 1,000 pounds of weight had just been lifted off of my shoulders. I had no idea in this moment, that 6 years later I would be a fucking Heroin Addict.

I just wanted to fit in. I just wanted to feel seen. I just wanted to escape. And so I compromised my code. I compromised my values. I sacrificed my promise to myself. And this is when my journey into becoming the Junkbox began. This is when My obesession with getting fucked up kicked in. This was the very first of many compromises to come.

And we get to our rock bottoms, one compromise at a time.

But I had to fill the void.

Heimlich Maneuver

Flashback. I am not exactly sure about a whole lot else surrounding this, or why I’m suddenly reminded of this one, but it popped into my mind yesterday sometime. I mean, we did go over it in therapy, but it hasn’t really “stuck” like many of the rest. I am fairly certain there must have been a tremendous amount of upheaval going on around this time, because there’s a lot of black out both before and after this.

I think I must have been in about fifth grade, and at the school where we did the hand prints on the wall. Yes. That is correct, because I remember that my teacher had taking a “liking” to me. And I use the quotes over the word liking, because what I really mean is that I believe she could tell I was going through a lot and she felt sorry for me. I, for the life of me cannot recall why we were staying with grandma and grandpa in their trailer. Given everything that had gone on up to this point any reason was possible. I just can’t recall it. I was pretty much fully checked out most of the time. But anyways. Actually, I think that it was that we would go to school from our trailer, and then go to our grandparents’ trailer after school until our parents got home from work, that might be it.

There had been a pretty decent stretch of consecutive days where I didn’t have money for lunch at school. At first I was able to kind of shrug it off like “they” (Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa) forgot. I don’t know who was responsible or at fault, but someone was. Then I was able to get by, by borrowing an item of food from one of the kids who took their lunch to school. Then I was able to get by, just by not eating. I would just sit there while the rest of the kids ate their lunches. I am not exactly sure how long this went on. It wasn’t a very long time, but it was long enough to matter. It also went on long enough, and also intermittently enough that the teacher started to notice. I remember one day, I was sitting at the lunch table with nothing in front of me, when my teacher approached me and pulled me aside in the cafeteria. I thought I was in trouble at first, but she was concerned that I hadn’t been having lunch lately.

Upon her initial inquiries about my food/lunch/money situation I did my best to play it off. I think I said something like, “I’m not really hungry so I didn’t get a lunch”. Another time she asked it was something like, “I was gonna bring my lunch, but I forgot it on the table.” Another time it was, “I don’t really eat a lot, so I’m not really hungry.” And finally, one day, she held me back in the classroom to ask me what was really going on, as the other kids spilled out into the hallway and headed to the cafeteria. And this time, I didn’t utter much in explanation. I just kind of did my ‘go-to’ when the heat turned up- checked out and stared at my shoes. She did the best she could to get information out of me, but I was not going to give her any. I had been down this road, or a very similar one before and I knew that if I volunteered a lot of information to her, then CPS was gonna come knocking on the door. So I just stayed quiet.

I think she was able to discern that something was really off, and that I wasn’t going to talk, so she did what the mother in her told her to do. She got into her pocket book and pulled out a five dollar bill and gave it to me. What happened next told her everything she needed to know. I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a big squeeze and said thank you. Then I made a very quick B-line toward the door and cafeteria. I was starving.

And wouldn’t you fucking know it? Just my luck. I was so damn hungry that when I sat down I started devouring my food. Like a hostage would eat. I finished up the main stuff, and unpeeled an orange. I woofed that thing down as fast as I could. A little too damn fast apparently, because it got stuck in my throat. I was choking. Like really choking. I flailed my arms and made really strange noises as I attempted to gulp in air. I got those sketchy butterflies in my stomach, the ones you get when you pass state troopers with dope in the car, ya know? This was terrifying. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get it out. One of the kids sitting by me noticed and was like, “Are you okay, Stevie?” And yelled for help. And guess who ran to my aid? Yep. My teacher. She ran over to me, wrapped her arms around me from behind, and gave me a tight squeeze of her own. With two fists wrapped into each other, she applied pressure into my chest and out popped a nasty ball of half chewed orange, some peel, and a seed. She had quite possibly just saved my life. I was so embarrassed. What a crazy turn of events.

When I got back “home”, to my grandparents’ house and they asked how school was, and I told them about what had happened they were happy I was okay. But they were very unhappy about my teacher buying me lunch. Apparently I was in trouble for this. Or someone was, but they were not happy. I could tell. I don’t know if they were mad at me for “exposing” my family, or what, but it was made very clear to me that this was not to happen again. So when I was again at school with no lunch, and my teacher again pulled me aside I had to tell her that she wasn’t allowed to buy me lunch anymore because I was in trouble for it. So she didn’t. She packed me a lunch, every day. On days that I had lunch money, which was rare during this stretch, I got my own. On days I didn’t she handed me a brown paper bag with a sandwich, a fruit, some crackers and a chocolate milk. Every single time. This must have happened more times than I can recall. And it must have happened so many times that apparently she had seen enough of it. Now, I cannot confirm or deny if it was in fact she who called, but someone did. Someone called the authorities and called my grandparents directly. I don’t know who was on the other line when the call came in, but I was sitting right in front of grandpa’s big ol’ wooden framed turn-knob T.V when it did. And the conversation was relatively short and heated. “Didn’t I tell you NOT to be gettin’ lunches from your teacher, Stevie?” Grandma asked me. And Grandpa, a man of few words chimed in, for me to go out back and pick a switch off the tree in the yard. “And if it ain’t thick enough, I’m gonna use something else.” Well, apparently it was not thick enough, because next thing I know, I am being held by both my grandma and grandpa, with all their might, while I did my best to squirm and fight to get away while they absolutely blasted me, all over my back, ass, legs and arms with fucking extension cord. I must have taken about 20 licks. All over me. I was squirming and screaming and scared. White hot blast after white hot blast. My skin on fire, and the feeling of being hit with a glowing piece of wire. It was absolutely horrible. I was bawling and screeching and squirming. I had never been beaten like this before.

When It finally stopped, I was told to go to Josh’s room and not come out or I would get it again. And when I got back with my parents, they were told of the incident and I was then scolded by them too, for taking lunch from my teacher and getting the authorities called on everyone. I had never felt so voiceless and powerless in my life. Life fucking sucked. I was just hungry.

After the savage beating from my grandparents with the extension cord, I had to wear jeans and long sleeves to school for about a week, to cover up the welts so no one would see them. But at least no one forgot to make sure I had lunch every day from then on, so that was a win.

I didn’t feel safe anywhere. And anytime I did get to experience safety, I knew it was only a matter of time before it was ripped away from me.

Solitary

Think about and ponder this for a moment: What is the absolute worst punishment a person can be given? I mean realistically, and legally, what is the worst type of punishment that can be handed down to a person? I understand that I am asking a question who’s answer is a matter of opinion here, but humor me a bit. Is it the electric chair? The firing squad? The gas chamber? Is it the movie style torture interrogations that we sometimes see in scenes of Spy films, done by the counter terrorist groups? I don’t think so, you see with all of these previously mentioned terrible situations a person can find themselves in as punishment, they’re all typically quite brief in length. They’re all very short lived and temporary, no matter how awful they may be. I would think that life in a really shitty and dangerous prison is about as harsh of a punishment as possible, but there is still one rung to go down from there. After all, they still have a way to punish you while you are serving life in that shitty prison. And that way is to place you in solitary confinement for very long periods of time.

Solitary confinement, the hole, Seg. (Segregation). They strip you of all of your privileges, all of your commissary, and put you in a cinder block room all by yourself. With zero human interaction, often for many months at a time, and if the sanction is to be harsh enough, years at a time. And this just goes to show you, that no matter how hardened the criminal, or “bad ass” a person is, the basic need for human connection is something that we all need in our daily lives. Without it, we can go clinically insane.

I came to Indiana with my family, only to once again be living with another aunt and uncle very much warped. I had experienced my first 12 or so years feeling very invisible and very unimportant. I had experienced many things by my 13th birthday that some combat vets never do. I certainly was not lacking in crazy stories to tell, or in the wide breadth of experiences that I had had up to this point. But I was lacking so very much in the areas of human connection, bonding, emotional regulation, communication skills, anger management, overall maturity, relationship skills, and processing and coping abilities. I didn’t know what I had actually experienced intermittently to be trauma, or what I was feeling at any given moment, and I certainly didn’t know how to communicate the feelings I was having, or who was safe to do so with. So this was a really bad state to be in. I was very much at a disadvantage here.

So here I was, living with an aunt and uncle who I had never met before and all of their biological kids, plus a bunch of foster kids, in a state I had never been to, fully traumatized and violated. I remember having the “left for dead” feeling often, although I couldn’t really identify it at the moment. I just knew it didn’t feel good and I often felt like an alien in my own skin, even in a room full of people. I always carried this shame with me, every where I went, like somehow everything that had happened up until this point was my fault. I know how ridiculous that may sound, but as I understand it now, it is actually quite common. To bare the shame and guilt of past events, as if they had happened because of me, not to me. And what’s interesting too, is that even the adults around me at any given time didn’t seem to pick up on it. We would be at family functions, or family would come over to my aunt and uncles, and I would recoil and isolate from my own cousins and other family, and the over all consensus was that “Oh, he’s just shy.” Nah, man, I wasn’t shy. I didn’t actually know these people and I couldn’t trust the humans I did know, so I definitely wasn’t gonna get close enough to them for them to hurt me, so I would just hang back away from most people. And this is kind of the whole “loop” of it, is that because I had become so isolated and emotionally withdrawn from people as a result of everything that had happened up until now, now I had a hard time making friends, or connecting with people because of my hyper vigilance thus reinforcing the feelings that I had of “I am not likable, no one wants to love me”. And as a result of all the constant movement, and relocating, being passed from relative to relative, I never established a sense of belonging. The only place I ever really felt like I belonged up to this point was on a baseball field.

Playing baseball was where I felt seen, it was where I felt valued. It was where I felt like I actually had something to contribute. And baseball was a way for me to lose myself. It was a way to escape all of my thoughts and feelings. The only thing I had to think about was playing the game that I loved. There was no pain here, there was no Trailer Trash, Violence, Molesting, Fear, Abandonment, Worry, none of that was on the diamond. It was just me and my teammates playing a game for the pure fun of it. And I was pretty good at it too. In another life and under many different circumstances, perhaps I would have been able to go pro. Not in this life though, and that’s okay.

But, what was particularly damaging to me personally, was that a vast majority of the trauma and pain that I had inside of me came at the hands of my own blood family. (Again, I am NOT placing blame here. As of right now, January 24, 2023 I have better relationships with my family than I have had in a very long time. I loved them all then and I love them all now. I am not trying to sit here and paint my parents, or extended family in any kind of negative light. I am simply trying to convey how things throughout my life made me feel, and ultimately impacted me in the long run). So it made feeling safe at home or wherever I was living at the time very difficult for me. And I believe this is why the second I “caught a whiff” of independence I took it an ran. I also believe that this is why I always found myself people pleasing and trying to fit in. Fitting in is the opposite of belonging. I know that now. When someone doesn’t have a sense of belonging within a certain system or community, they will reach for validation by fitting in where they don’t belong. And that was me to a T, and that is also a very interesting concept. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, so I try and fit in where I certainly don’t belong. This left me again and again still feeling very isolated and very much alone. Even once my parents finally got on their feet, as promised.

We finished up the year at South Central, and moved into an apartment in Valpo. I was going to be attending school at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. I remember being nervous about this, because I had heard the adults around me talking about how snobby valpo is. (Their words, not mine. Although I don’t all the way disagree). But, I was very much accustomed to the starting a new school thing. I had done it like 8 times now, including this one, so what the hell. It couldn’t be all that bad. And it wasn’t. I had become very chameleon like, in my ways of survival. I could “get in where I fit in” pretty well, because I carried with me a sense of not belonging. So it was the only real means I possessed at getting along. I remember the first day of school at T.J. I was standing in line for lunch, and I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find a girl standing just behind me. “Hey, my friend thinks you’re really cute, I think she likes you.” And she points over to a group of chicks sitting at a lunch table. “Yeah her name is Lauren Laurenson” and started laughing in my face, as all of her little friends joined in. She had learned my name/nick name was Steve, Steve Stepherson (Pronounced Steverson) and decided she was going to deal a major blow to my already frail and damaged sense of self, self esteem, and self image. With a damn name joke. What a fucking bitch. Well, this oughta be fucking interesting here in valpo. The adults were right, these kids are fucking snobs.

Bullying. Rejection Trauma.

But whatever, I don’t even know why I included that last little bit, but it came out so it’s staying. It’s not like in the grand scheme of things it’s really all that important. The timing of it all really did suck though. I was already ate up with all kinds of negative shit, and now I’m essentially getting bullied by a little four-foot-nothin-female. It was just about the status quo though. Move, making a fresh start, get settled in and get some hope, and then BAM- kick to the nuts. I was used to it by now. (And yes, this entry that I am writing here sounds really “Victim-y” I know, but I am trying to convey to you what kind of head space I was in at the time. Don’t worry, it changes. Trust me. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to write about it like this).

So I ended up pretty hurt by the lunch line thing, and kind of resigned myself to just try and make friends a little closer to home. So I started with the kids who lived in my apartment complex, and then the kids who rode my bus, and then outward from there. But the overall theme here, was that I was always seemingly searching for a place a fit in. And this was because I always felt so isolated, I felt like an alien in my own skin. I carried so much shame and guilt over things that were not my fault that they became my identity. I constantly felt like I had no where to go. I remember throughout my life thinking, “I want to go home, the only problem is, I don’t know where that is.” I wanted to experience some kind of real human connection. Some actual bonding, a real lasting friendship. But, as I would find out over the course of my life, is that I was not well adapted enough to maintain and nurture friendships and relationships once I had finally obtained some. Because of how my perspective had been shaped, and how essentially deformed my mind was, I ended up running people off, or walking away from them once I had experienced any kind of vulnerability with them. I was totally fucked. It was not a good stretch of life, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. It seems as though I had been born into and raised in my very own solitary confinement.

“Spent my lifetime in this cage I built around me. Bangin on the door.” (Cody Jinks)