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.

 

my angel

IMG_0454I remember staring at a picture on my grandma’s wall of two children crossing what appeared to be a rickety bridge.  Below the bridge can be seen the looming danger of a  swiftly-moving river.  Standing nearby is the most beautiful blonde guardian angel intently watching the two children clumsily explore.  There is a small smile on her face and love in her eyes as her arms extend in cautious awareness, the kids oblivious of her or the pending danger.  I remember imagining what would happen next if one the children’s foot slipped, the angel quickly flying to the rescue and magically placing the child back on the bridge.  There were many times when I was crossing a log over the creek or climbing a tree when I would wonder if I had a guardian angel watching me, protecting me.  Someone who’s sole purpose was my well-being.

Then I began to have experiences with her.

The first one was at the ocean when I was six years old.  A strong wave pounded my little body and violently knocked me down.  The current gripped me so hard that I couldn’t seem to stand up.  I recall being under the water, seeing the sun in the sky through the gritty water feeling helpless.  I could hear my attempts to scream inside my head as I fearfully fought to get air.  There aren’t words strong enough to describe the panic and fear of smothering under water.  Out of nowhere, her arms gently grabbed me under my arms, pulled me out of the water, and set me on my feet.   I ran out of the water and onto the sand to catch my breath.  My angel had saved me from death. 

As I advanced through the adolescent years, I grew up in a volatile household.  My father was an alcoholic which led to regular scenes of screaming, fighting, and physical altercations.  There was a time I recall waking up in the middle of the night hearing my parents screaming in their bedroom.  My father yelled “You want me to hit you?  Do you? Do you?” which was followed by thud…thud…thud.  My mom howled in desperate, hopeless agony.  I pulled the blanket of my head and hurriedly got on my knees.  I prayed that God would send my angel to the bedroom and protect my mommy.  Suddenly, my father was in my room and for some reason threatening me and my brother with a beating.  I quickly scaled the bunk bed ladder and planned to either get out of the window or run out the door.  But I was cornered.  He was lurched over me as I backed into the corner of the bedroom, shaking and terrified.  Out of nowhere, she pushed him against the wall and held him long enough for me to run out of the room to find safety.  I remember running through the dewy grass, breathing in the cold night air.  My angel had saved me again.

As a teenager, the quest for approval and acceptance sent me down many disappointing and emotionally damaging paths.  I was different than anyone else in my family and most everyone else in my school.  The chaotic storm of raging hormones, dramatic home life, and being a community misfit was a pretty traumatic experience.  I began to face the dangers of emotional instability instead of the tangibility of a physical threat.  Once, standing in front of then entire high school, I stood boldly behind the microphone to deliver my student president campaign speech.  As I began to speak, a group of boys loudly chanted queer! queer! queer! until the principal had to call them down while many other students could be heard snickering and whispering.  I left the school that day mortified and for the first time suicidal ideation.  I sat in my car outside the school, tears welling up in my eyes.  As I searched in the car for a napkin to wipe my face, I found a note in my glove compartment.  Out of nowhere, my angel had written a message to me of love, acceptance, and encouragement.  A promise of devotion to my well-being.  My angel had saved me from a depressive spiral.

There are countless other angel appearances throughout my life, but I became too preoccupied with marriage, career, school, and children to appreciate her guiding hand.  There was something about being a self-sufficient adult that made me less aware of the miracles in my life.  I took less time to appreciate her and I grew self-centered and grossly cynical.  I stopped looking, and eventually gave up on caring whether or not my life was saved.  This worldview was one factor that led to my drug use.  Apathy is the one of the most destructive states of mind.  And I let it almost destroy me.  After losing everything but a black satchel, under a tree by the airport, I placed a desperate call of help to my mom.  As I waited for my mom to arrive from West Virginia, I reflected on the previous two years of my life.  I thought “Wow, my angel must still be around or I would surely be a dead man right now.”  I went on to conclude that she must have connected that cell phone call and was keeping my momma safe on the road.

Momma arrived and we spent the night in a motel in an effort to gather our thoughts and think about the next best step for me.  In the meantime, I had reconnected with a few of my “friends” from active addiction and had decided that I was going to stay in town and forgive them for leaving me on the side of the road.  In the back of my mind, I truly just wanted to get high and I knew they were the answer to acquiring some drugs.  So, I proceeded to explain my plan to mom, who replied “You’re coming back to West Virginia with me. There is no discussion.” Her statement made me angry, which led to both of us screaming on the side of the street.

When the discussion came to what I believed the end, I picked up my black satchel and tried to walk away from her.  She grabbed the handles of my bag and began yanking it toward her.  “Let go!” I screamed in her face. “This is all I have!”

I AM ALL YOU HAVE!” she screamed with a thunder I had never heard from her, face inches from mine, eyes wide with anger.  She repeated “I AM ALL YOU HAVE!”

We both stopped yanking. My body went to jello as her words sunk in.  She was right.  I left her standing and slowly got into her car.  I was stunned, shocked, and beginning to feel withdrawal symptoms. She got into the drivers seat, dropped her head and began to sob.  As I listened to her I realized that I had never heard my mom cry so hard.  But then I remembered.  That cry…that desperate, hopeless sob of my momma that I was hearing now I heard the night I was hidden under the blankets praying as a little boy.  The pain in my chest at that moment caused me to cringe and I shut my eyes.  I had caused my momma to feel that same pain emotionally that my father caused physically.  

That’s when it hit me.  All this time my guardian angel had been right in front of me.  My momma had lifted me from the ocean’s current, pushed my dad aside to let me run, snuck a note in my car when she knew I was feeling misplaced.  And now, she was here to save me from near-death, to fly down and place me out of harm’s way, safe from the danger of which I seemed oblivious. I do have an angel who’s sole purpose is my well-being.  She’s my momma. 

Happy Mother’s Day, momma.  And thank you.           

admitting the need for help

IMG_0452
With momma after successfully completing the intensive outpatient drug treatment program.

It was a humid day in mid-August when the public bus dropped me off at the treatment center.  I had traveled for over two hours on four different bus routes.  Intermittent thunderstorms has left the air weighty and my clothes soaked.  I was also starving.  Two days prior I had been discharged from jail after losing all of my belongings at a bench in uptown Charlotte, NC.  I stood near the bus stop staring at the stark, intimidating brick building.  Tall, slender windows lined the walls of the building, reminiscent of the cell windows at the county jail.  This wasn’t the type of comparison I needed to have in this moment!   A group of people stood together, lowly murmuring to each other but all looking down at the sidewalk, cigarettes smoldering in their hands.  Even though I felt miserably hot, my teeth were chattering from the overwhelming anxiety and fear of the unknown.  I was a 42 year old little boy scared to go inside on the first day of school.  I felt alone and lost.

I reached into my pocket and remembered that my son had given me a pack of peanut butter crackers that morning.  He was packing his lunch for school and offered them to me, adding “Will you be able to eat today? And when will I see you again?”  The previous night, my kids snuck me into the apartment my ex-wife had leased for them.  Even though she was living with her boyfriend, she refused me permission to stay in the apartment, even for a night.  At the time, given the option of sleeping outside again or having a warm bed near my kids, I agreed to their plan of defying her wishes for the night.

Moving the crackers around in my hand, I began processing the reality of my situation.  My kids smuggled me into their apartment and fed me without even the assurance of when or if they would see me again.  It felt like I was a fugitive or random hobo from the street.  The guilt of the circumstances I had put them in and what they were exposed to at an early age caused a pain inside me that is indescribable.  But from that pain grew a determination to heal.

The crackers sparked a spontaneous reality check as I  centered my mind amidst the barrage of thoughts and emotions.  The image of my son’s eyes from earlier that morning when he extended his gift to me broke loose the restraining doubt. It was time to be a father and return hope into our lives.  I said out loud to myself, “I need help.”  I focused my vision on the front door of the treatment center and proceeded across the parking lot.  This was the first time in active addiction that I submitted to the notion that I couldn’t find my way out of this life on my own.  Pushing through the door of the facility wasn’t only a physical step toward sobriety, but a mentally liberating breakthrough that brought down those walls of pride, shame, and fear.  

The next eight months brought challenges and growing pains like I’ve never experienced in my life, and marked changes to my thought processes and behavior.  On April 30, 2019, in front of peers, my counselor and my momma, I stood with confidence and pride as I successfully completed the treatment program.  I gave a presentation outlining my experience and personal plan for future sobriety that I will be expanding on in future blog posts.  I am so proud of this accomplishment and have my family, friends, and fellow recovering addicts to thank for supporting me through this experience.  And, best of all, eight months later, my kids and I all live under the same roof without any backdoor sneaking, and my son doesn’t have to question whether or not I’m coming home tonight.

 

the resurrection

beforeandafter
The left is the height of my Meth use, December 2016 and the right is 130 days of sobriety, December 2018.

The Easter holiday has turned my focus on the idea of resurrection as it relates to my own life story.  Have you ever experienced death in a metaphorical sence?  There are experiences I’ve lived through, such as divorce, that have affected me on a mental level the same as enduring the death of a loved one.  The significance of the experience is the ending of familiar and the establishment of a new normal.  When we are jolted from our comfort zone, we have the choice to gain wisdom and build a better life or fight the change and be stuck for extended periods of time.  I have resurrected from these endings either emerging new and improved or damaged and stifled.  No matter my condition, though, something about me or my life died and I was forced to move forward.  Currently I am in a resurgent phase of my life as I re-establish the stability I once built as a father and contributing member of society.  I am resurrecting who I was, but rising from death having learned from destructive behaviors such as shame, selfishness, and lawlessness.

I can remember the death that led to this most recent season.

My eyes squinted from the sunlight streaming through the naked sliding glass door of my bedroom.  I was lying on the bare hardwood floor using my shirt as a pillow and my jacket as a blanket.  It was late January, but thankfully warm outside since there was no electricity.  I could hear the rustling of someone in the bathroom, the acoustics of the empty condo making it almost impossible to remain quiet.  Just like any other time I took the opportunity to sleep while actively addicted to Meth, waking up was confusing and terrifying.  Gasping, reaching for my phone to check the date and scan for important text messages, then frantically standing to survey the scene was all in my typical “morning” routine.

I had missed calls from an unknown number but no texts from my group of friends, and looking around my bedroom I saw one patio chair in the corner.  The sight of the chair evoked flashes of memories of the most recent random boy I had met.  We had spent the previous three days together and, as usual, I thought I was in love.  That must have been him in the bathroom.  I hurriedly scavenged my jacket pocket for my baggie.  “That f—er better not have stolen my stuff or my money!”  Standing there in a desolate condo, having slept on the bare floor without electricity, my first thought still revolved around my drug supply.  And where were my friends?  Why hadn’t I heard from them?

Two days prior, the boy in the bathroom and I had cashed a counterfeit check.  I had walked in to face the friendly staff at my local bank who had known me for years, decked out in my button-down Oxford and cardigan, and knowingly used their trust to cash a check made out to me from a made-up business.  This was a time when I found a new addiction–the  natural high of getting away with identity theft, forgery, and shoplifting.  I had allowed the drug to change me, and began using needles on a daily basis.

Who I was had slowly been dying.

Several months prior I had lost my job and consumed myself with theft and injecting Meth on a daily basis. I stopped paying my bills but all the while believing that I was on the verge of coming into large sums of money through my identity theft tactics.  The drug manipulated my brain so that I constantly believed lies in my own head.  Eventually my car was repossessed and I had received a final eviction notice.  I was to the point mentally where I didn’t grasp time nor did I understand the realities of adulthood that I had clearly established for decades of my life before Meth.  I found myself immersed in a group of friends whose only daily motivation was to make enough money to buy drugs and possibly food. This was my every-day life all the while convinced that I was going to come across some drug deal or theft scheme that would save me financially.  We even printed our own money at times.

My life had become death.

Somehow amidst the chaos, after cashing the forged check, I managed to pay movers to store the furniture and other belongings from my condo.  Looking back, I cannot remember how I had the coherence to make this happen.  I knew the eviction date was looming and I recall thinking that I would simply put my stuff away and sell it from the storage unit to make the money needed for rent and hey, I’ll just forge another check or maybe I can sell some of my drugs and I’ll start over with new furniture.  This particular morning, waking up on the floor, was eviction day.  The rustling in the bathroom ended up being preparations for our next injection, which as soon as I pulled the needle from my arm, there was a knock at the front door.  My landlord was standing there and I suppose seeing me in such a state–I can only imagine what I looked like–caused a tinge of sympathy.  He put his arm around me and very calmly said “Dallas, you have to leave today.  The Sheriff is on his way.  We’ve been calling you for days.  It’s time to go.” I was confused and tried to reason with the landlord that I had the money coming, pleading through desperate sobbing. It took the arrival of the Sheriff to make me grasp the notion that I had lost my home.  

As the Sheriff was escorting me out of the condo, I heard the boy rushing out the back door, never to be heard from again.  I stood on the street looking mournfully at my condo and as if attending a funeral, I said goodbye to the life I had worked so hard to build.  A few days later my eyes squinted from the sunlight streaming through naked limbs. I was lying on the bare ground using my shirt as a pillow and my jacket as a blanket.  I was homeless, my condo replaced by a tree near the airport.  Reaching for my phone, there were no texts or calls.  Next, I rose from the ground physically, but this time I allowed myself to die in the metaphorical sense.  I had arrived at the rock bottom of my life.  I accepted that it was time to put that season to rest and move forward.  As my fingers dialed my mom’s number to ask her to rescue me, I began the first step of a long resurrection process that has led me to where and who I am today.

This morning my eyes squinted from the sun coming through my kitchen window as I took cinnamon rolls from the oven for the kids’ breakfast and leisurely sipped coffee.  I am so grateful for the death that lead to this life.

 

 

the witching hour.

File_001Recently I have found myself wide-awake at 4:00 a.m.  Many mornings I will enjoy the solitude by sitting on the couch and staring out into the dark stillness of the night.  While looking at the shadows cascading into the living room from the street light, I noticed how they danced from the headlights of a slowly passing car.  I was reminded of my life as an active Meth addict.  This is the time of the night we used to call the “Witching Hour” as all the tweakers would be at their climax of deviancy. 

One particular witching hour came to mind, a time when I had been awake for four consecutive days, and the first time I can recall feeling out of control while actively using.  Turning off my bedroom lights, I got into bed and moving figures on my walls and ceiling immediately caught my attention.  Of course, being a part of the Meth social circles, I had heard all about the “Shadow People” from other addicts which were movements and figures that one would think they saw but were the result of sleep deprivation.  I had previously experienced swift movements caught in my peripheral or what looked like small animals diving into the street while I drove at night.  These were no big deal to me and I typically laughed at myself.

This time it was different.

These shadows took on three-dimensional shapes; an elephant, oddly shaped men, a large bird, and a gigantic flower.  I was frozen on my back, sinking into my mattress as I witnessed the animation before me.  I remember wiping my eyes and closing them tightly as I attempted to make what I knew to be illusions disappear. Eventually, I succumbed to the entertainment.  I was giggling like a child as the flower bent over and touched my nose, I was talking out loud to the elephant who had sat down beside one of the human figures.  I’m not sure how long this went on; Meth can cause a minute to feel like hours. 

When I try to reflect on the rest of the night, it comes to me in pieces and not necessarily chronologically.  I recall hearing loud rustling and voices outside in the back yard, and the night took a dark turn.  As if a villain had entered the scene in a child’s movie, the friendly shadows ran in fear after hearing the sounds outside.  Suddenly they were gone, replaced by the long stoic obscurities cast from my windows.  I sat up in bed, heart racing, and stricken by fear I had never felt and have never felt since.  The sounds were coming from a group of policemen who were positioned outside my bedroom (or so I believed).

My bedroom had sliding-glass doors that led onto the patio and back yard of my condo.  Beyond the curtains over the doors, I could see the stealthy movements of men flipping, running, sneaking…they were planning an assault on me.  I was frozen except for the erratic darting of my face toward every tiny sound outside, each time gasping.  And then, I could hear them in the house.  I began to sob.  I was so overcome with fear that I was having difficulty breathing and shaking so violently I couldn’t even grip my phone.  I inched my way to the very top center of my bed and curled into a fetal position.  I cried profusely and remember screaming out each time I would hear a twig break under the pressure of their boots or the crackle of their radio or their faint conniving whispers. 

Hopeless.  Fragile. Confused.  And completely out of control.      

The grip of fright felt as if I was being slowly smothered by a python.  I lay curled up, tensed, crying uncontrollably, with my face buried between my legs hoping I could drown out the noises.  There were several instances during the night when I desperately tried to seek help.  For some reason, maybe exhaustion or dehydration, when I was finally able to control the convulsions enough to hold my phone, I couldn’t remember how to make calls or send texts. Out of sheer habit from being high and scrolling apps on my phone, I managed to log into a dating app and sought out help from other people.  But who was going to rescue someone who was currently surrounded by the police?  At some point, I recorded a message using the “Voice Memos” function on my phone.  It was a plea for help referring to how the police were connected to my friends and family, I had been followed for days, and other irrational paranoia.  In my mind, I had sent that memo out like a S.O.S. to the Universe, but in reality it went nowhere.  Some time after day break, my body finally gave in to the pull of rest my body needed and I passed out.  I frantically woke up later that day, my muscles sore to the touch from the intensity of the night.  It took my sober mind several hours to piece it all together.  I had lost my shit.    

Up until this point of my drug use, I prided myself in being one of the few users who had control over their mind.  I wasn’t like most others: face-picking, schizophrenic, or violently paranoid.  I saw myself as an educated, level-headed man who understood reality versus drug-induced mind tricks.  What I have come to understand now is that Meth has a clever way of manipulating emotionally mature people like me into the false notion that they are making the decisions.  With those who aren’t as mentally advanced, it is easy to make them hear voices, see bugs crawling on their body, or think that the neighbor is recording their every move for the FBI.  The real challenge for Meth is to intricately deceive someone like me by utilizing their confidence, will, and intelligence against themselves.

Please understand that this drug is highly clever in the way it slithers into the synapses of the brain and quickly learns where and how to attack.  This strategy is individualized for each person as it studies patterns and writes new ones.  And, now that I am reflecting on my life history, I understand that my first addiction was to control.  Control is the high that enables me to feel good, safe, and powerful. This is why Meth and I had such a natural connection. It allowed me to feel as if I had complete control. All the while, as if a gifted marionettist, it knew exactly which strings to pull inside my brain to make me dance.

After I completely lost control that night, I began to analyze my thoughts and behaviors from an outside perspective and sought to understand what was slowly happening.  My mind was being hijacked; I was a puppet.  With that understanding, then began the labored and deliberate work of leaning in and taking back my mind from a chemical (and I believe spiritual) perpetrator.  The healing from the profound cerebral damage Meth has caused is the battle of a lifetime.  It still tries to attack me, even sitting alone on my couch in the middle of the night.  The memories flood, good or bad, which can lead to triggering the craving, and then my brain easily gives in to those marionette strings, those drug-forged synapse patterns.  But each time I deny those cravings, I am forging my own path, cutting the puppet strings, and authoring my life.

Even during the witching hour, sobriety has given me a new kind of control, one that is positive and produces a light that rids my world of the shadows that seek to destroy me.