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.

 

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.

 

 

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.