restoration.

RestorationI stood outside the car at 3am, staring at a row of ranch-style houses, my gaze fixed on the brick one with red trim.  The winter blackness fell on the desolate street, seeming to muffle sound. It was the kind of silence that buzzed in your head.  For a meth addict, that kind of constant buzz tended to be eerily soothing. It is as if the brain yearned for anything consistent to anchor the disorder of obsessive thoughts.  I had enough to obsess about, though. Someone had stolen cash from me, and I was going to get my money back.

I opened the passenger door and slid into the cold car.  The abruptness of my getting back into the car startled the guy in the driver’s seat (let’s call him Dax).  His body jolted, making him drop the phone he had been fixated on. Nothing was said, because this kind of instance was normal between meth addicts; spontaneous jerks from loud noises or being mindful that sudden movements could trigger a wave of paranoia.  I had only been out of the car for a few minutes, but that was enough time for him to lose himself in Grindr.

Without looking up from the phone screen, Dax asked So, what’s up? I’m freezing.

I’m about to get it done.  Just a minute. I had bribed him to drive me here with the promise of free product.  At this stage of my active addiction journey, I had elevated myself from drug user to drug supplier.   This was the result of a downward trajectory sparked by being fired from a job for the first time in my life.  The guilt and shame fossilized my heart and I had become calloused and bitter. What Dax didn’t know about this trip was that the guy who lived in the brick and red-trimmed house had stolen a pile of cash from my nightstand and now I was going to execute my plan to steal his beloved dog for ransom.  I didn’t have weapons nor did I know how to use them, so my “collections” approach tended to be psychological (and debolical) in nature.  

My body was beginning to convulse a little, a nice blend of extreme nervousness, freezing air, and coming down from the previous high.  I took a deep breath and the both of us used needles, which gave me the jolt I needed to spring from the car. I knew the hiding place of the spare key and also knew he was partying across town.  The little Yorkie was already standing at the door yapping loudly at the sound of an intruder, so all I had to do was scoop him. I raced back to the car, jumped in with the dog and screamed GO! I’ll never forget the look on Dax’s face; it was a perfect mix of confusion, fright and disbelief.  He sat staring at me as I wrestled the wriggling dog.

Damn it, I said GO! Dax finally started the car and we were on our way to the pet-friendly Super 8.

We got back to the room, and I really don’t know which of the three of us were more panicked.  My head was pounding in cadence with my heart. I was partly scared, but also charged by the thrill of getting away with it.  It was the same kind of adrenaline high I received when I would walk through the doors of Target with a cart full of stolen merchandise.  These were the instances in my life that I created to feel some semblance of being alive. Dax. on the other hand, was 100% freaking out, pacing in circles and mumbling.  The dog had taken refuge under the bed.

I sat down to begin my series of threatening texts to the man who lived in the brick and red-trimmed house.  Then I noticed Dax packing his belongings.

What are you doing?

Man, I’m out of here.  You are f—ing crazy.

I told you, he stole cash from me.  You have any other ideas?

Dax stopped scouring for his belongings long enough to stare at me wild-eyed.  Who the hell are you?

Oh I just love it when other meth heads try to judge me. 

There’s something wrong with you man, and I’m out.

I recall the sinking feeling in my stomach as he was leaving.  The realization of what I had done swept over me followed by the despair in thinking I would again be alone and stranded–now with a dog.  I grabbed his arm at the door and with tears rolling down my face I distinctly recall my words. Look, everything about ME has been stolen.  I don’t have much left, and I’ll be damned if I let anyone steal another thing from me again.

At the time, I really didn’t comprehend the profoundness of that statement.  All I knew was that my life had fallen apart and I was desperate to cling to anything or anyone who could give it meaning.  It was either my dramatic performance or the promise of free drugs, or both, but Dax ended up staying. I had given the man in the brick and red-trimmed house a deadline of noon, to which he complied by Cash App, and was given the address and room number at the Super 8 where he could find his dog.

***  

Please understand that I am not proud of this story, and I hesitated to make it public.  But, I feel it illustrates just how lost and broken I had become and an example of how Meth takes over brain function.  Methamphetamine is the most intelligent and evil drug available on the planet. It instinctively knows where one’s weaknesses are, the vulnerability areas, and preys on those spaces in order to exploit and transform an otherwise good person into a shell of their existence.  Meth knew that I lacked self-confidence and would literally whisper in my ear if you do this, you’ll feel powerful, you’ll be someone, you’ll be accepted.  

At 415 days sober, I’ve discovered the depth of liberation in my dramatic plea for Dax to stay.  I had lost every part of my soul, but the deterioration began long before I first tried Meth at age 39.  Through healing work, instances of losing parts of myself have been revealed as far back as pre-verbal. Throughout my life, I allowed parts of me to be taken, or I would give them away, until finally there was only a fragment of my identity left.  I never really knew who I was. How can you love someone you don’t know? After forty years of this, I found what I thought was the solution; a drug that magically filled in all the missing pieces and made me whole. It was if Meth had possessed my soul and taken over all my functions, mentally and physically.  And I was an easy target since I had lost all sense of hope that I would ever be truly accepted by anyone.  

The dark place I had arrived at when I stole a dog was triggered by the loss of my tangible life.  I had lost my job, then my car, and my condo was within the eviction process. It was the physical loss that brought it all home to me; I could try and fake my way in the world having lost my inner soul, but now my outer world was crumbling.  In the end of active addiction, I was left with only one black bag to my name, and when that was lost, I gave up.  But, this was also the beginning of my healing journey.  The first year of my sobriety has been about sorting through the previous years of derailment.  By sharing my experiences with Meth, I pray that others feel less ashamed about their past, less isolated, and more hopeful that they can rise above the grips of this demonic chemical.

With that said, I feel a calling to change the focus of my blog.  Yes, I was addicted to Meth for a time in my life, but that was only a small part of the overall picture of being Dallas. Instead of a hind-sight look, Memoirs of an Addict, I’m going to begin charting my journey forward.  I am on a mission to reclaim all those parts of me that had gone missing.  And through this assemblance process, emerge in the world a transformed being.   Being Dallas is finding out who I am at my core and loving that person unconditionally.  You’ve seen my descent.  Now watch my rising. –Rumi 

 

 

what is wrong with me?

IMG_1543What is wrong with you?

That question cycled through my mind for over forty years.  And the search for the answer fueled most of my major life decisions.  Of course, I wouldn’t have asked the question at an early age unless someone told me or made me feel abnormal.  Some early memories include my mom telling me at age four or five to stop pretending I was walking around in high heels (to which I lied and said they were pretend boots) and the babysitter catching me playing with her daughter’s doll at age seven and telling me if she told my dad he would beat my ass.  Inadvertently, everyone around me created the imprint in my mind that I did not belong; that I was different and something was wrong with me.

This narrative that I adopted evolved into an incessant need for acceptance and approval.  At home, among friends, at church, at work–my level of self-regard hinged on acceptance in the tribe as evidenced by my perception of approval. What I didn’t know then was that every time I asked the question of what’s wrong with me I was approaching the world from a place of inferiority.  This means that I lived a life assuming that I needed to prove that I was normal, and the reactions from others served as my gauge. The sense of belonging made the emptiness inside subside. At least temporarily.

After the marriages, church involvement, college degrees, children and five bedroom house on the corner, I still asking what’s wrong with me?  What was wrong with me that I still felt out of place, still battled depression, still considered suicide, and was still in constant need of outside approval.  That’s when I made the decision to accept the sexuality I knew was true from age six and live my life as an open gay man. Finally I would be free, accepted by the community, applauded for my bravery and live happily ever after. 

Not even close.

If I ever felt like I was not accepted or that I needed to fight for approval, it was most brutally obvious with the gay community in Charlotte.  It didn’t take long after discovering Grindr (a “dating” app) and enduring a few interactions with men that I was looking at myself in the mirror and asking what’s wrong with me? I felt like a child who’s big shiny balloon had just popped; all those years I dreamed about “coming out” only to feel worse than I did when I lived a lie. Granted, I approached the community from the same place of inferiority I had always used as my lens, so most of this was self-sabotage.

And then one day, Grindr opened the door into the gay Meth community. I was thrust into a whole new tribe who were actively seeking new members.  Since I had plenty of discretionary income and had learned to use promiscuity as a means of finding approval, I was a perfect match. I was welcomed with open arms and oddly enough, in the midst of active addiction I never asked the question what’s wrong with me.  I had never felt more normal because I was among other guys who were also damaged and searching for those same answers; we all shared an unspoken bond. But, it wasn’t long until my life came crashing down around me and when reality finally set in, I was back to asking what’s wrong with me?

About four months into sobriety, there was a dull, numbing pain that sat like a rock in the pit of my stomach.  It began showing up as I realized that taking the substance away from my life did not fix me. I was broken before I started using Meth, so why would I miraculously be fixed once I stopped?  I felt hopeless as I considered the prospect that I would still grapple with the same issues of approval and acceptance but this time couple them with the challenge of starting my life over from scratch.  How could I have not progressed through all of these years? What would it take for me to change? What is wrong with me?  

There was one particularly defeating morning when these questions were swirling around my mind that I decided to attend an AA meeting before my rehab session.  Per usual protocol, I introduced myself to the group as an alcoholic-addict. But something about that statement didn’t set well with me once the words left my mouth.  Was this the label I was to identify with for the rest of my life? Was I destined to forever sit in a circle and lament about my disease? Being an addict seemed like such a small part of the overall hurt inside.  Actually, it didn’t feel a part of the hurt as much as a product of it. Again, I left the meeting asking myself what in the hell was wrong with me?  

An hour later I sat staring at a worksheet the treatment counselor had given me.  I felt as if my world was crashing down around me once again. The feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm was making it hard for me to breathe.  Deciding to push it all down for the sake of getting through the session, I rolled my eyes and began the worksheet. The activity was a problem-solving exercise that asked “why” five times to get to the core of a particular problem.  At that moment, the issue on my mind was I don’t want my identity to be equated with the word ‘addict’ for the rest of my life.  So, then I began the why’s: 

  • Why? Because realizing that I have the disease of addiction doesn’t feel like healing.
  • Why? I still have this dull empty place inside and feel like I don’t belong.
  • Why? I suppose because in my core I have never solved the real problem.
  • Why? Because I don’t know the real problem.
  • With hands shaking and tears welling up in my eyes, I answered the fifth why.  Because I’ve never sought it out… That’s when it hit me.  I assumed my problem was drug addiction.  I never considered that there was a “real” problem.

And so, through discovery work, I unraveled the driving force behind my foray into drugs.  I’ve written about this before in previous blog posts,  but it bears repeating.  There was a raw, liberating power that was unleashed once I realized the core issues that lead to active addiction: I was told that I had to be something different to be accepted and I never felt approval from those who meant the most to me.  Having that answer unlocked the secrets to my entire life, enabled me to truly understand myself, and to feel like I had finally made measurable progress. From this, hope was born.

dear daughter.

IMG_1196To my daughter on her 18th birthday,

During the last year of my sobriety, I have devoted much time to unpacking the events that took place during my active addiction.  Standing in my guilt, I have often wished that time could somehow be turned back in order to erase and replace things that I’ve done and said to you.  My priorities fell out of alignment and I chose the pursuit of a chemical high over the health and well-being of my children (and myself). It has taken some deep soul work, but I’ve made great strides in replacing the shame I’ve felt in regards to the situations I subjected you to and the morbid adult decisions I forced you to make.

You bravely stood by me as my caretaker throughout active addiction, both mentally and financially.  I left a gaping hole of guardianship over the household that you filled with a type of maturity I’ve never witnessed in a teenager.  Even though it wasn’t fair and you didn’t ask for that role, you took it on with resilience and most importantly a very rarely found unconditional love. I am so grateful for you.

I have accepted that I cannot change the past, but I can shape the future.  I’m making a commitment to you the same level of relentless devotion that was expended in an effort to  replace my shame will be focused on restoring our relationship.  I come into this space a higher version of myself and equipped with rich learning acquired from the healing process.  I believe we can build the most beautiful father/daughter bond the Universe has ever seen!

I do see the damage that has been done.  You’ve been a casualty.  The most detrimental result of my actions has been the narrative that I’ve written for your life.  And that story forces you to show up in the world as the caretaker for those who are damaged or lost.  Not that being a caretaker is inherently a bad thing, but it can be if you forget to take care of yourself. You spent a large portion of your formidable teenage years moving your needs and wants to the side in order to “save” me and the family.  Because of this, my addiction  has caused you to find identity in being a savior for other people and their situations. 

Now, it is time to step out of your comfort zone and commit to writing your own narrative, finding love for yourself, practicing self-care, and aligning your higher self.  There is a healthy amount of selfishness that we sometimes have to exert when it is time for self-care.  Give yourself permission to be selfish!  I couldn’t ask for more loyal and loving daughter. And I want to see you flourish. I’m here to support you in this process as we grow together and rewrite our stories.

Dad

buffering

black android smartphone
Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

I can’t think of anything that frustrates me more than staring at the screen of an electronic device while the little wheel turns.  I’ve just clicked an app or tried to open a program, or attempting to watch Netflix and all that happens is a wheel turning, letting me know that the program is buffering.   I recall, when I worked as an executive, the IT Department’s exasperated sigh when they would pick up a call from my office.  If I had to sit and stare at that little wheel turning for more than five seconds, I would be dialing the emergency help-line extension.  Make it go!!  Inevitably, whether it be technical assistance at my workplace, internet company, or Apple, the response was always the same: there is a temporary lack of connection.

The concept of buffering came to my mind recently during my sobriety work, looking at both my experience and others’.  After tackling the question of how did I become a drug addict, I was left with a feeling of what now?  You see, there was revolutionary power in realizing what I was missing all my life that drugs were fulfilling for me, but now where do I begin in regards to rebuilding my life?  There was a clarity beyond belief that gave me a level of self-awareness that broke the chains Meth had on my life.  But, now what?  I was buffering.

There is an unique experience that only an addict can know once they’ve been clean a certain amount of time and have made the decision to quit forever.  Once I finally severed the ties with Meth, it was time to start from scratch– but how? I had lost my social circle and was in the beginning stages of rebuilding trust with family, sponsors, counselors, and some fellow recovery folk.  I was getting on my feet financially but not stable enough to feel comfortable, and just started a new job where I was constantly wondering if my new coworkers had googled me to see my mug shots.  This state of being feels isolating, scary, and riddled with pressure.  Its as if I was suspended in time, or what I call buffering.

When you are buffering, you aren’t moving forward but you aren’t moving backward.  Everything is brand new–the programming you were used to is being rewritten.  And while that coding in your brain is being constructed, there is a temporary lack of connection between you and yourself.  Who am I?  How am I going to show up in the world? What is life going to be like? What do I even do?  This is a very vulnerable time for some recovering addicts.  It was for me.  I remained in flux and was being presented choices by the Universe that would either lead me to relapse or strengthen my will to be sober.  The choices made during this time were extremely crucial to my success.

Thank God my lack of connection was only temporary.  Through my best friend, family, treatment team, AA and NA folks, and a new circle of like-minded people focused on my best interest, I found a strong connection that allowed my brain to reprogram.  My perception evolved, then thought-patterns, then actions.  My life has changed and I am a brand new man.  I don’t see that little wheel turning in front of my face anymore.  I only see my life being built and I am writing the code.

 

controlling the narrative.

img_1023The descent my life took after first trying Meth was as fast as it was devastating.  In two years I had lost my job, car, home, and kids.  At rock bottom, after receiving an ultimatum from my daughter, it was as if I was shaken out of a dream.  I looked around at what had become of my life as if someone else has destroyed the landscape.  I wasn’t sure how I got to that point or why I chose to turn to drugs.  I proceeded to spend hours in drug treatment combing through the remote coffers of my brain in an effort to fill in the blanks.  The answers that unfolded would become the most powerful sobriety tool I could have received.  When I began to understand my own story, healing was released and my life altered multidemensionally.

Understanding my story wasn’t simply plotting milestones across a timeline, but pinpointing pivotal moments that had written the narrative in my mind in regards to what I believed about myself. The power of this exercise lied in the realization that I had allowed other people and circumstances to write this narrative.  I came to believe what was told to me instead of developing a secure sense of my own identity.  What I believed about myself was shaped early in my life; something is wrong with me, I don’t belong, and I am not enough.  

Something is wrong with me. 

The first time I remember feeling out of place was in Kindergarten.  When we had free time to roam about the classroom, I gravitated toward the corner where the kids pretended to be a family.  There was a mini house set-up complete with plastic kitchen, small couch and a doll cradle.  When the group of kids assembled it was time to decide who was going to be mommy, daddy, and children.  One of the kids automatically assigned me as daddy and told me I had to leave for work.  The other kids couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to be the daddy, but instead stay home to cook and clean.  I remember with vivid clarity a brown-haired girl saying what are you, a sissy?  This was the first time I had heard the word ‘sissy’ but certainly not the last.  Something must be wrong with me.

I don’t belong.

I was about ten years old when my dad sat me and my brother down to tell us he had planned a camping trip for the three of us.  I was excited by this because he had made it a habit to invite his brother (who happened to be my age) along to all of our outings. When I expressed my desire to make plans that included only immediate family, my dad replied that his brother was like the son he never had but he would plan something to shut me up.  The day of the camping trip came and the three of us loaded into the truck, my brother and I in the back, and took off for the river.  A few miles into the trip, my dad made an unplanned stop and picked up his brother who got into the front of the truck with him.  I stared at my dad through the back window as he turned and shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes at me.  I recall looking out of the truck as we pulled off onto the road, the wind blowing the tears out of my eyes and feeling a hurt that burned my stomach. I don’t belong.

I am not enough.

I thought that I had found my tribe when I began attending church on a regular basis with my mom.  I was beginning to receive much-needed accolades from her family and church members because I didn’t cuss or drink and took an interest in learning about the Bible.  That was until age 11 when my hormones surged and I found myself attracted to the boys in my class.  I remember one night sitting in church beside my mom listening to my Uncle, who was also the Pastor, giving a sermon on the topic of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The message?  How the sin of homosexuality would send me directly to hell and how God hated it so much that he burned cities that allowed it to the ground.  I went home after church, opened the window to my room and prayed and cried as I stared at the moon asking God to help me, to take me away.  This was a prayer I would pray many times over for years.  I am not enough. 

I could write for hours about the ways in which the narrative that I allowed to be written for me caused a relentless pursuit of acceptance and approval. From my marriages to the college degrees to continuously finding new jobs where I would be praised for my performance.  I was always trying to get others to rewrite my narrative, to validate it, to measure my worth.  And so when I discovered the escape drugs could give to me, a temporary departure from the battle of my mind, I jumped in wholeheartedly.  And the bonus was that the Meth population welcomed me as one of their own.  I became a part of a group who had similar narratives, who could relate.  This felt comfortable to me for a short period of time until my life spun out of control.

But then, as I transitioned from active addiction to building a sober life the feelings of being out of place and not being enough compounded.  I had lived for so many years believing the lies of an externally-built narrative that I didn’t know any other way of life.  Taking charge of my own narrative was scary and uncomfortable.  But through drug treatment and my support system, I found the courage to take responsibility for my story.  I have vowed to never allow no one or no thing power over what I believe about myself.  The results have been revolutionary beyond my wildest dreams.

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, that confused little boy, I would wrap my arm around him and tell him that he isn’t weird, or wrong, or misplaced.  I would assure him that deep within he has all of the love and light he will ever need to be happy.  I would promise him that he has big work to do, people to touch, and love to spread all over the Universe.  I can’t go back in time, but I am eternally grateful that I can tell myself those things today and fully comprehend the implications.

Nothing is wrong with me, I do belong, and most of all, I AM ENOUGH!

      

independence.

The engine of the moving van sputtered and jerked until it completely died.  I glanced JTB06691down at the dashboard to see an empty gas gauge.  Lucky for me there was just enough momentum left to drift into a vacant parking lot.  Rolling to a stop, I sighed and sunk back into the seat of what had been my home for the previous four days.  I was exasperated but not ready to give up on my current mission.  After being evicted from my condo, I had decided not to return the van since I had no where else to go.  After all, without my condo as “home base” for my friends I was no use to them.  I had suddenly become homeless, alone, broke, and without drugs.  On this particular day, I was headed to the bank since I had found some blank fraudulent checks in one of my boxes.  Some quick cash, in my mind, was the answer to my immediate problems.   This is what my life had become, and the chemical changes Meth made to my brain caused me to believe that I was constantly on the verge of a financial breakthrough that would turn my life around.

The bank was about two miles from the parking lot, so I set off on my journey by foot.  It was an abnormally cold February day.  The harsh gusts of wind cutting into me from the weekday traffic made it difficult for me to breath.  The temperature caused my sleep-and-food-deprived muscles ache even worse; my body felt as if all the blood had been drained from me.  It was very difficult to press on at this point, but regardless of how I felt on the inside I tapped into the very last source of adrenaline left to power through.  I knew from my past successful bank fraud attempts that I needed to create the facade that I was an upstanding member of society so they would cash my check.  I wore my typical disguise when trying to scam or steal–an expensive suit, tie and overcoat.  These fragments of my former self served to craft my new existence as a homeless drug addicted thief.

I had found myself dabbling in identity theft that spanned from mailbox raiding to buying social security numbers from the dark web.  I was stealing regularly from major department stores and beginning to learn how to create fake ID’s.  This new identity as a master thief evolved very quickly over the previous 18 months.  It all began when I stole a lighter from a gas station.  At the age of 40 I had never stolen a single thing in my life.  The rush I would feel when I walked out the door with stolen goods or cash was a new kind of high that I chased heavily.  This was a skill that set me apart from the other addicts in my circle and gave me a new level of respect and acceptance.

But today would cross a line for me.

The two mile walk allowed me time to plan my strategy.  I liked to role play the conversation I would have with the bank teller; chit-chat about the weather or their blouse, or some up-coming holiday.  I needed to divert their mind away from any suspicion that the check in their hand had been created by me with a box of business checks I stole from Office Max.  Today’s conversation would be different.  I had overdrawn accounts at too many banks and landed myself on some type of counterfeit database.  So, my last option was to utilize my daughter’s checking account.  She was  a minor so I could exploit my parental rights by depositing a check and asking for immediate cash back.  Using my daughter’s bank account was a line I had told myself that I would never cross.  But today I had no home, food, gas, or hope and I was crashing quickly and violently.  I was fearful that my body would give out like it had done before and I would collapse in a random place.  I needed money for a drugs, food, and a hotel room.  In that order.

My head ached terribly, especially between my eyes and my muscles were beginning the quivering stage of body shut-down.  But I laughed very charmingly as I discussed the weather with the teller and adding how difficult it was raising a teenage girl.  She barely looked at the check as she recounted her own experiences raising teens.  I took the cash, trembling, my sight blurred, my heart began to pump blood faster through my body as the adrenaline rush gave me the energy I needed to sprint out of the bank.  I sat down on the pavement outside and sent a text to my dealer.  I have cash and I need a ride.

A week later my daughter called me crying because she was at the mall with her friends and had to leave the clothes she was trying to buy at the counter because her card was declined.  She had witnessed me stealing and printing checks on multiple occasions, so she knew it was something I had done.  After that phone call she refused to speak to me, which was one of the lowest points of my life.  Two weeks after that was the morning I called my mom in desperation to save me from underneath the tree where I was living.

As I type this blog post, it is seventeen months later.  So much has happened since then, but the most important part is that my daughter and I are together and I am sober.  I just kissed my daughter goodbye before she left for work.  We had a nice laugh about the outlandish red-white-and-blue necklace she’s wearing to celebrate Independence Day. Today marks eleven months clean for me and I’m marveling at how parallel our lives are at the moment.  Both of us have recently experienced a new sense of independence; she just graduated high school and I recently completed drug treatment.

She’s reached a critical milestone in her life’s timeline where she’s facing a crossroad of critical decisions that can shape the rest of her story.  There is a lot of fear as she considers adulthood; the veil of parental protection gone and the responsibility rests solely on her.  She feels like the world is watching her to see whether she succeeds or fails, that societal microscope adding a layer of uncomfortable pressure.  Yet, she’s teeming with hope and possibility; excitement and adventure await driven by newfound independence.

As I approach a year sober from Meth, graduating from treatment is a critical milestone for me as well because the decisions I make on a daily basis are going to shape my new sober life.  I am scared.  Honestly, I feel an overwhelming amount of fear to think about the layer of accountability being lifted from my life.  The weekly face-to-face check-in and random drug tests helped me feel safe.  This is all up to me now.  There hasn’t been enough time to build complete trust back yet from my family and friends, understandably, so I feel the eyes of the world skeptically and cautiously watching me.  I am also overflowing with hope and possibility as I rebuild my life, richer and fuller than ever.

The healing that has taken place over the past seventeen months has produced a profoundly deep relationship between me and my daughter.  I am so very grateful that she chose to trust me again.  Now we both stand at the precipice of major life milestones, ready to leap into our own independence.  The beauty of it is that we are leaping hand-in-hand.

 

 

junk drawer.

drawer
My junk drawer.

Do you have a junk drawer?  A designated space for things that maybe don’t fit anywhere else, need some work that you aren’t ready to give energy to, or just don’t need very often; out of sight, out of mind.  How about a figurative junk drawer in your mind where you store emotions or events?  Those parts of your life history that don’t quite fit into your narrative, that require hard work to process; out of sight, out of mind.  At a very young age I taught myself how to use my mental junk drawer, what I call the art of emotional compartmentalization.  I’m not sure if this is an actual term in the mental health field, but for me personally it is how I avoid processing complicated emotions or trauma.  I learned that if I suppress uncomfortable or hurtful emotions, storing them somewhere deep inside my mind to deal with later, I could put on my happy face in the present.  No one would know that I was hurting, and life would continue on as if nothing ever happened.

My earliest memory of this behavior is at about five years old.  Without the skills needed to adequately voice my concerns, I would crawl under the dining room table and bite the face of my Mickey Mouse watch until I heard it crack.  There was something about the act of damaging the watch that gave me the instant release I needed.  I  secluded myself, transferring those uncomfortable emotions to an inanimate object, then emerged from underneath the table ready to return to regularly-schedule programming.  If I hid what I truly felt, I would be viewed as a happy, well-adjusted kid.  Fast-forward two decades.  The Mickey watch had been replaced by my emotional junk drawer, the reward being the same: I hid what I truly felt to be viewed as the happy, well-adjusted man.

It was a summer day in 2006, and I had finally made it to the exit ramp.  Eyeing the interstate, I slammed my foot on the accelerator.  I could feel my eye balls pulsate with every intense beat of my heart.  Tears began streaming down my face as I screamed as loud and long as I could.  I was now going over 100 mph, barely breathing from the smothering anxiety, desperately gripping the steering wheel.  I reached over to the stereo knob, finding it hard to grasp it from the violent shaking.  I managed to turn the volume up as far as it would go, unbuckle my seat belt and scream again.  I shut my eyes knowing there was a sharp turn at the bottom of the decline, a spot I had scoped out for weeks.  Beyond the arch in the road were several large trees.  This was to be the chosen location of my death .  I had already arranged the scene in my mind of a lonely wooden cross driven into the ground to memorialize the tragic accident that took my life.

And, just like I had done many times before, I opened my eyes, let off the pedal, and lost at my own game of chicken.  By the time I would arrive at work my face would be dry, blood pressure stabilized, smile attached, and my sadness shoved back into the drawer.  Maybe one day I’ll have the balls to go through with it.

Arriving at work, I noticed an email from the HR Department: the company I worked for collaborated with a local counseling agency to provide one free therapy assessment for all employees.  I immediately picked up the phone.  At 29, I was married with two small children, recently attained a professional position and was serving in various roles in the church.  From the outside looking in, my life was a picture of the American Dream, but inside I lived a daily wretched nightmare of an existence.  Living with depression and masking it to the world is nothing short of a living hell.  This hollow emptiness and hopelessness began in the pit of my stomach and slowly spread throughout my body like a smothering black cancer. As the days grew closer to my 30th birthday, I was consumed with suicidal ideations.   My daily life felt like I was standing on the edge of a steep cliff, looking over into the vast emptiness trying to gather up enough nerve to jump; do I want to live another day? 

How do you fit thirty years of repressed hurt and shame into a one-hour session?  As soon I sat down in front of the therapist, I ripped open that junk drawer that by now was so packed it was ready to explode.  By the end of the hour, the therapist had made a call to a local mental health facility and I checked myself in that evening.  The therapist called my wife at the time to tell her what was happening.  She didn’t even know I was going to the counseling center, much less that I was depressed or dealing with hurt, shame, anger and pain of that magnitude.  I managed to compartmentalize so well that no one in the world had the slightest clue that I wanted to end my life for the betterment of my family and friends.

After two days of staying in the facility, I refused to talk to anyone or participate in group sessions.  One cannot learn how to unpack that much junk overnight.  On the third morning, I was wrapped up in my blanket when the nurse came to my room.  I will never forget this lady.  A tall, large African American woman with the sweetest and softest of voices, she took her hand on my shoulder and forced me to turn toward her.  Baby, they never gonna let you out of here if you don’t get up out of this bed and try to get better.  You’re a grown man, now act grown.  Needless to say, I rose out of bed and took the first step in a long journey toward learning how to unpack my junk drawer in a healthy way.

I am writing this today for anyone who relates to suffering in silence.  You have reached the point where your emotional junk drawer won’t even budge.  There is no where else to store trauma and you feel the gripping anxiety that stems from the fear of exploding.  You don’t have to live this way; there is freedom and a higher version of yourself waiting to be found.  I often still feel the urge to compartmentalize, but I remind myself that the life I live now having gained a sense of true identity and personal awareness pales in comparison to the living hell that almost took my life.