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.

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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)

Knock Knock

Even though the story about Fudge finding my little brother had a happy ending, it was still incredibly traumatic for me. And for many I am sure. It was ‘isolated events’ like that that led me to constantly feeling ‘on edge’. It was almost like I lived in a state of hyper vigilance, always tensed up, waiting for the next horrible and scary thing to happen. I always knew that there was something lurking just around the corner, that I would need the space ship for. And I was never wrong. I had become so accustomed to tragedy and trauma, that I expected it. It’s kind of like I had bad days with some good sprinkled in. Now, as I continue to heal and grow, practicing self awareness I have good days with some bad sprinkled in. I had been so morbidly shaped by all of the events and on going stress of my childhood and the traumas that came along with it, that it had actually made me quite depressed at times. I remember sitting in my neighbor friend’s car one night, I was spending the night with him and we had made a trip to Kroger for snacks and stuff to watch movies. On our way back, his mother driving, for no particular reason I decided to tell him and his mother that “I don’t really see a point in this whole life thing, I don’t really have a reason to live.” Think about that. An elementary school child, who is supposed to be so full of wonder and imagination, with so much excitement and innocence actually thinking that he has no reason to live. How truly sad. But I supposed that is what happens when we as children have our innocence taken from us. I was subject to so much emotional upheaval, so many adult problems, so many devastating blows to my spirit had occurred at such an early age, that I didn’t really see a point. I mean, who would? If what I had seen, experienced, and been apart of was how life went, what was the point? More suffering? No thanks.

Like I said though, there were some good times sprinkled in. They were just few and far between. I remember that we were still at the Scatterfoot house. School had finished up for the day, We had literally just started the new school year. I had just had the honor of feeling recognized when my fifth grade class got to put our hand prints on the walls all throughout the inside walls of Kedron Elementary school. We were the very first “Graduates” of the brand new school and as a way to commemorate the occasion all of the students had our palms rolled with either purple or green paint- the school colors, and we had our hand prints placed on the walls for all of time. Then we had a big graduation ceremony in which we got to walk up to a microphone and say our names and what we were going to be when we grew up. “My name is Stevie Stepherson, and when I grow up I am going to be a Professional Baseball Player.” Was what I went with. Oh to be so young and naive. But anyways, that was last year, and this was now. I had just started at J.C.Booth Middle school, and I think we were about two weeks in.

We had finished up with school for the day, and we, our family had actually been having a really nice streak lately. No major blow outs, no fights, no ugly events. Life had actually seemed to be somewhat settled down. Which was nice. My guard was finally starting to come down a bit, and I was starting to relax and trust again. It felt good. I was laughing and joking with my neighborhood friends on the bus as we made our way toward our respective stops at the end of a long day of learning. We as friends were making plans to play for the afternoon, probably football out back in the soccer fields, or kickball or something. We are all a really active and sports centered bunch. It was gonna be a nice afternoon. A kid gets off the bus, and then another. And then another. My stop is approaching and I am preparing to stand up and make my way to the yellow line. As we bend the corner, of the large loop, or circle that Scatterfoot drive is, I can see that there is a large white truck in the drive way. It was parked with the front of it facing away from the house and down the hill. As we slowed to our stop, and I made my decent down the stairs, and bent around the front of the Blue Bird, I could see that it was another fucking U-haul. Ugh. Not again. Where in the world were we going now?

At least this time, I was not super worried, because I was at Booth Middle School, which covered a great deal of the city, so I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have to be changing schools. And truth be told, I was actually kind of excited. I thought that maybe, finally we were gonna be moving out of Uncle’s house, and getting a place of our own. The thought of this made me happy. So I boogied up the hill as fast as I could to learn what was going on. Only to hear shouting and arguing before I got to the door, and see people visibly upset and crying when I entered the house. Something tells me this was not going to be good. Ugh.

“We’re moving to Indiana, Stevie.” I was told. What in the world? That was far! I certainly did not expect this. Holy shit. I did my best to advocate for us staying in Georgia, but it all fell on deaf ears. I remember walking away from my mother and relatives in the kitchen, and out to the garage to talk to my dad, when I noticed that the U-haul was already quite full. We didn’t have a whole lot of stuff, so I only assumed that the packing was pretty much done. “Are me, Luke, and Josh gonna have to share a room when we get there, Dad?”

“Well, no son, you’re not. Josh is staying here in Georgia with Grandma and Grandpa.”

The world stopped spinning. My mouth ran dry. I felt dizzy with overwhelm, and an absolute rage and heartbreak overcame my body and mind. I lost it. I absolutely exploded with sadness. Right back into the Space Shuttle I went. And what made matters much much worse, was that the packing was indeed done. We were going to be leaving within a matter of a few minutes. I would only have about a half an hour with my older brother, to say good bye. and zero idea of when I would see him again. This was earth shattering for me. I was beside myself. I cried and plead with every adult in the house not to let this happen. But it was indeed happening and happening fast. Everything was a blur. I felt so helpless and unheard. True powerlessness had overcome me and I was sad. Why was life like this?

It wasn’t long after, we had hugged and cried together and said our goodbyes. We pulled out of the driveway in the U-haul. Without another vehicle. Me and my little brother sitting in the back of the U-haul, talking to our parents through the little connecting area for the first few legs of the journey and napping off and on the whole way. We were going to be staying with another aunt and uncle, Luke and I, while mom and dad got on their feet. They would be staying in a homeless shelter in Valparaiso called the Spring Valley Center. Luke and I would be attending South Central in Union Mills. My aunt and uncle fostered a lot of kids I guess so at least I would have friends to play with when we got there. And I would get to see my Grama which I was very excited about! Where, oh where would this next season in life take us all? I had to say goodbye to Georgia and all that I had known, and hello to Indiana and all sorts of unknowns.

Once we had gotten settled in with aunt and uncle in LaPorte county, things seemed to level out quite a bit. We would talk to mom and dad on the phone often, and visit them on the weekends. Sometimes, we opted not to visit them in the homeless shelter though. They fought a a lot. Mom would blame dad for us being in such a place and back and forth they would go. So sometimes, we would choose not to go there, and sometimes we would go to Grama’s. Grama was the best. And she still is. She is such a sweet lady. She lived in this place in downtown Valpo, called the Valparaiso Women’s Club. I guess she was kind of the caretaker there. Cleaning and maintaining the place in exchange for reduced rent costs. When I would go and spend the weekend with her, I would “help” her clean the common areas and take the trash out and stuff. One day we had gotten ready to head up stairs to do the cleaning and stuff. Part of Grama’s responsibilities too, I guess was to check in on the other residents from time to time, so as we went about our business this day she would knock on their doors and say hello. There were about three floors inside this place and many many doors to knock on. So this was taking forever. We would dust the wood and wipe it with Pledge, clean the mirrors in the bathroom, and She would knock on a door. Empty a trash can, replace paper towels in the common area kitchen, and knock on a door. And on we went. We finally get to the top floor and are just about finished up with the days tasks, when we come to yet another door to knock on. We can both hear that the T.V is on inside the room, but no one is answering her knocks. She knocks again and again. Nothing. Finally, frustrated or “flustered” as Grama put it, she sets her cleaning supplies down and uses her master key to open the door. She announces that she is coming in, and as she pushes the door open, we can see pretty much the entirety of the room. It was basically a studio apartment with a closet. There was a dresser inside, a TV on top of a large desk, a tall floor lamp, and a queen size bed. And laying there, slumped over on her face, she had clearly fallen off the bed- on the hard wood floor was the first dead body I had ever witnessed. I immediately knew she was dead, and so did grama. She tried to give her attention briefly anyways, but it was obvious that she was long gone. I have learned in the years since that she had died of an overdose. How very sad. I was in absolute shock. I immediately disassociated and stuffed this one down. But the effects were there. This was terrifying. I don’t think I slept for a month. I swear man, it seemed like terror and chaos awaited me around every corner for most of my life. I almost didn’t have a choice later on in my adulthood but to laugh about all of my life’s misfortunes and adventures. This was no laughing matter though. I had no other tools or people to process it with. I just didn’t know what else to do. It was like life was just one big sick joke most of the time. And it all shaped me, honed me, and refined me into a very jaded, cynical, pessimistic, and mal adapted young man. That poor lady, I wonder what her story was, to get her to the point she had died at. That was someone’s daughter. It is so very sad. If we all only knew other people’s stories man. Maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to judge. I hope her family was able to find closure and heal from all of that.

Acute Trauma.

It’s so interesting to me, how this is the year 2023 and it feels like we are in some kind of revolution so to speak. People talk about quantum leaps throughout history, like the steam engine, the combustion engine, the microwave, the space shuttle, the cell phone and micro processors. Those are quantum leaps which bring about new age for humans. And I believe that we are in the midst of a quantum leap, which will bring about a new age as we speak. The revolution, the quantum leap, and the new age that is upon us though is not necessarily that of technology like before, but it is one of self awareness and mental health and wellness. We are learning more about ourselves and from each other than we ever have before in the history of mankind. And it is really exciting. Soon we will all be so well educated on the topic of self awareness and mental wellness that we will actually be dealing with well rounded and developed, and healed human beings on the regular. And it begins with, again, exposure. Many have to be brave enough to expose our own traumas, and our own struggles, to allow others to see and feel what we went through- to gain the courage to confront their own struggles and demons, which will then spur about killing stigma of mental health issues. Going to a therapist or treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues should be just as widely accepted as going to a doctor for a broken leg. And we are fast approaching that. I really hope that someone can read my experiences and feel inspired enough to take that courageous step toward conquering their own past traumas and finally fine the clarity and peace that they deserve.

You are NOT what happened to you. Things happen to us, not because of us.

In Control

Life was really hectic, scary, and confusing for a very long time for me. I am sure that is pretty evident just by what I have outlined thus far. And what is very interesting about this thing called life, is that up until “recently”, like the last couple years I actually thought that some of the things that I experienced were just a normal part of life. Now I don’t want any of my readers to think that I am sharing these stories for any other reasons other than my own catharsis, and to try and portray and explain what I believe to a be very real and direct link: Trauma and Addiction. I am not sharing these stories from my life for your sympathy, and I am not sharing them to play some kind of victim role. I am also not sharing them to make my parents or relatives look bad. Are we all, mostly products of our environment, yes. But if we are going to play the blame game, then we might as well take it all the way back to Adam. To blame the parents is to blame their parents, is to blame their parents is to blame their parents. make sense? The more I learn and understand myself, the more I am able to understand that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and with who they have and the circumstances that they were born and raised in to. We all live life pretty much according to our last mistake. And life is a constantly on going learning experience. I am simply doing my best to shed some light on how the experiences that we have shape us, from very early on especially. And hopefully, by me sharing such intimate details of my own traumas, I might inspire at least one person out there to get vulnerable with their own, and perhaps take that courageous step and finally commit to therapy, or treatment, or recovery: to finally open up about some of the things that they experienced themselves. Because, one thing that I have learned in my 37.5 years here on earth is that Recovery & healing both demand exposure. We don’t have to tell everything to everyone, but I believe that we all need someone that we can tell everything to. Trauma is a living and active thing. After all, it is a Noun. And if we cannot peel our layers back, expose the pains, and lean in to our secret places; why, as they say, “What we resist, persists.” And over time those dark and ugly parts of us will ultimately end up consuming us. By learning our selves, and re-processing our pasts, gaining new perspectives on our lives with trusted individuals, and really getting “naked” with someone who can point out things that we cannot see- that’s how we can learn ourselves. That’s how we can fully audit our lives, and take an honest and objective look at who we really are. We cannot change what we refuse to confront. I learned this the hard way.

And one of the many things that I have come to learn about my own traumas is that it kind of happened (in a very abbreviated way) like this: Isolated incident, isolated incident, isolated incident and the impact that is left on me was (in a very abbreviated way) the world is bad, people can’t be trusted, love isn’t real, people will only hurt you and let you down. It’s best to just keep my walls up, stay in the space shuttle, and push people away before they hurt me. But what is also very interesting, is that because I operated on this mechanism, I am the one who ultimately ended up suffering the most. I stayed lonely, isolated, fear driven, on edge, and relied on ego and control to get me through my life. The ego came from my shame and fear. My self esteem, self worth, and feelings of invisibility and helplessness also helped to create my over inflated sense of self, Ego, as a way to protect myself from vulnerabilities. And the absolute need for control came from all of the inner turmoil, grief, and helplessness I felt going on inside of me. The less control I felt on the inside, the more control I would TRY to have on the outside, seeking and using external sources for internal validation; and doing my best to arrange, design, manipulate, and control the world and it’s people. Some interesting shit.

I never had control. I never had control of really anything. I had zero control over having to go to six different elementary schools in six different years. I had zero control over having to ask my teachers to buy me lunch at those schools because I was starving. I had zero control over being left at one of those schools until 3 o’clock in the morning.

I had been in one of those after school programs, where we would play kick ball and stuff like that until the parents got off of work and would come pick us up, one by one. And typically I would be in the last percentage of kids to be picked up because often times my parents worked later than most. Well, on this particular day something must have happened, because I was sitting there in the cafeteria of my school with one of the volunteers until 3 a.m. This was obviously before the times of the cell phone. So we were at the mercy of whatever the fuck was going on. I remember rather well, the volunteers and teachers repeatedly referring to calling CPS and the Police, because no one had ever just left their child like this. I got totally Joe Dirt-ed at my elementary school and no one could find my parents. I begged and pleaded with them every time they mentioned calling the authorities, “No! Don’t! They’ll be here I promise! They’re Just working!” And they actually listened to me, for the time being. They actually didn’t call them. This one sweet old lady just sat there with me, and we colored and we played with clay, and we walked around the hallways of the school. And finally she ended up finding some of those mats that the kindergartners used for nap time, and stacked a couple on top of each other right there in the cafeteria and covered me up and I went to sleep. I remember being woke up as my dad was scooping me up off the mats, grabbing my stuff, and casually thanking the lady for staying with me for so long. Like it was just a regular old day. I also had zero control over the fact that CPS knocked on the door of our trailer the next day, and my parents wouldn’t answer the door until they had coached us on what to say to them to make sure that they got out of this. And we did. We did as we were instructed and we told the ladies who came exactly what we were supposed to say to them. They came and went, and things resumed right back to normal. You see, all of these incidents that took place in my life left a mark. They left and impact. They helped shape my sense of reality, of self, and of the world and it’s people. All of the uncertainty, the fear, the broken trust, the lack of protection, the abandonment- shaped my mind to believe that nothing is consistent, I need to constantly be afraid, no one can be trusted, I must find a way to protect myself, and everyone is just going to leave me anyways. So why get close? The world is violent and full of people who want to violate me, so I best really hone my ability to disassociate or learn how to violently fight back. But I didn’t really posses the heart to hurt another person, so to disassociate was my only plausible option. So I continued to improve my space shuttle.

The less in control my life was, the more chaos I was subjected to, the less control I felt on the inside. And the less control I felt on the inside, as I grew older, the more I would try and control on the outside.

“Though I am not without weakness, I will define what lies ahead. I’m not out of control.”

– “In Control” by Greensky Bluegrass