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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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.

Monty

When I was about kindergarten age, we lived in a very diverse apartment complex in Peach Tree City, Georgia. I was just like any other kindergarten kid, I just wanted to play with friends, ride my bike, and be a little boy. I had made a friend about 2 buildings down, a black boy about my age, who’s name escapes me, but I want to say that it was Monty. Me and Monty played together every single day after school. We were best buddies. We would ride bikes together and swing on the swings, and just run around the complex catching bugs and exploring life. Well, one day I rode my bike down to Monty’s door and knocked as I always did, and was prepared to ask my routine question, “Can Monty come out and play?” And when the door pulled open, I saw a couple “big kids” standing there. So I asked, but I immediately remember feeling fear, and started to kind of tread backwards, in retreat. The two big kids, who I still don’t know who they are to this day, came outside on to the stoop, and started pushing me around, picking on me and saying really mean things to me. Things like “Oh this that little honky boy Monty always talkin bout, yeah we heard about you- Stevie. Nah we done heard that Monty been runnin around with you and you need to get ya little pink ass up outta here.” They pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the face, they slapped me, they spit on me, and every time I tried getting up, they would push me down again. I remember being scared, like really scared for the first time. One of the big kids went inside and grabbed a broom, and then proceeded to beat me repeatedly with it while the other boy absolutely destroyed my little bike and threw it down into a culvert. Finally Monty came running out trying to help me, but was carried back inside crying about what was being done to his buddy. Eventually, a neighbor heard the ruckus, and came out to break it all up and help me back home. I was bloodied, scraped, crying, and my feelings were so hurt. When the neighbor finally got me back home and inside to explain what had just happened, it got even worse. My mother threw on her shoes, and walked down the sidewalk and knocked on the very door where all of this just happened. Now I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I could see that mom was very angry. I think my Dad was holding me back, as I didn’t want to see any more violence or anyone to get hurt. The mother of the big kids who just did this to me emerged from the apartment and a confrontation ensued. Out of no where the lady goes to grab or push my mom, and then got dealt a brutal right cross that sent blood, spit, and teeth flying out into the grass. I believe this lady was asleep before she even hit the ground. And as soon as she did hit the ground my mom proceeded to stomp her guts out, kicking her in the face and downward heal stomping her head. Once she was satisfied with the revenge that was just dealt she came back to the apartment, helped my dad wash all of the blood and snot and tears off my face, sat down and smoked a Marlboro Red 100. I was in Kindergarten.

This was the type of shit that I was exposed to on the regular. And I used to excuse it as, “It was Georgia in the 90’s, it was a really crazy time”, but the fact of the matter is no child should have to experience shit like this. And it didn’t stop. Shortly after this, my parents, and Monty’s parents made us fight each other, and neither one of us wanted it to happen. “Beat his ass or ill beat your ass boy” type shit, they pushed us at each other, and I refused, but Monty did not. It was very horrible and scary to not throw a single punch and to get the shit kicked out of me by my best friend. All because a little white boy wanted to be friends with a little black boy. This was my first experience with racism. I didn’t even know that Me and Monty were different at all. I just knew that he was my friend, and now I am being forced to fight him because we have different shades of skin; by our parents of all people! The very people who are supposed to be protecting us from this very type of situation are thrusting us into it! It’s disgusting and it breaks my heart.

Shortly after that, Monty and I found a way to sneak down to the park and play. His older cousin Travis caught us swinging on the swings. He tried to play nice like he wasn’t bothered at all, and had asked us if we wanted to see the new golf club he had just found in the dumpster of the apartment complex. So, being kindergarten naive kids, we said something like “oh yeah, AWESOME!!!” Well, Travis used that Iron to split my head open from the top of my eyebrow-backwards, and then had the soul less audacity to drag me up from the park and knock on a neighbors door asking for help, and he fucking got away with it too, after I was taken by ambulance and the cops had left, because he convinced them all that it was an accident, and that we were just playing around. It breaks my heart that someone could do something like this to a little boy.

I never spoke to Monty again. We would see each other on the bus, or at recess, but we never spoke another word to one another again. I hope he didn’t turn out like his predecessors.