I love that quote, and for once, I think I have some focus for this blog. Life has truly been the most physics defying ride for a while now, and I’m rather thankful I bought the ticket and rode, with my eyes wide open no less.
While I can’t really be too specific, I am finding it really difficult to at least not mention the recent events, albeit in a rather aloof manner. I have had the pleasure to speak with a pretty well-known author, whose book I read many years ago. I have read countless books, and sadly sold off many of them when my supply of DVDs and CDs ran out and I needed money to keep myself “well” for a day. I really don’t remember a lot of the books I have read, many were just the equivalent of a mindless Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Something with pointless explosions and the cheesiest of action, things so ridiculous, like falling out of a helicopter, saving himself by letting tree branches slow his fall. Who needs Newton and his archaic laws of motion?
Apparently, not Hollywood. The books I remember leave a mark on my brain, are more often than not real life accounts of a twisted life, where the author has to fight to within an inch of sanity to overcome his/her demons. This man’s book was one of them and nearly ten years later, we have developed a friendship. The publishing world is not exactly the easiest thing to break into, and any ‘help’ I have gotten prior to meeting my guy from other authors, was just run of the mill advice.
All I ever wanted to accomplish with my memoir was to reach people who have dealt with addiction personally, or have known and loved an addict. The media’s coverage seems to only focus on tragedy, and seemingly only when a famous celebrity loses the battle, most recently Whitney Houston. In my last blog, I mentioned how upsetting this is, especially when only a few days after her death made her relevant again, I found out a friend of mine overdosed. When celebrity is involved, it is always portrayed in a what a shame type of light. When an average mother loses a son or daughter, it gets no coverage, and the prevailing thoughts are what a waste.
Addicts make the news when they rob a pharmacy, or do some other heinous act. Judgmental stigmas and stereotypes are all that ever get mentioned, when what is needed most is the polar opposite, a message of hope, an erasure of the idea that all junkies are disgusting drains on society (unless they had some #1 hits or big grossing movies). Drug addicts absorb these notions, and use them to further reinforce the self-perceived hopelessness of their own lives. If they haven’t given up completely, this is just added ammo in the clip of self-destruction.
I have an opportunity through my new friend, to at least get my story much more in the face of the public. Up until now, my team has focused on a grass-roots approach, and have been somewhat successful with it. So many people believe in me, and my story. Now it comes down to writing 1000 word essay, to do what I do here on a regular basis, tell my story, transpose my reality onto cyber paper as it were. It is daunting, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to answer the challenge. 39 years of life will come down to those 1000 words, with the payoff not being fame or being able to make a living doing what I love, but to be able to show the true nature of addiction.
Sure, some addicts do end up on the streets, their disease pushes them into a corner, the necessity of that next fix, always mentally driven, and sometimes physically as well, drug depending causes terrible decisions. Since the “war on drugs” began in earnest, our prison systems have become one of the most solid businesses in the country. In 1987, the bill was $10.4 billion. 20 years later, inflation adjusted, it was $44 billion. Last year, $69 billion. 1 out of 100 adult Americans are in prison. 1 in 30 are in jail, parole or probation.
These numbers by far dwarf any other country’s incarceration figures. We must be a terrible country, or possibly, we are locking up a lot of people who need help, who need to hear something positive, instead of buying into the idea that “once an addict, always an addict.” Or that relapses are part of recovery. I remember watching a HBO special back in 1998-9 (years blend for me!) about heroin addicts. One of the last statistics they put up was that only 1 out of 100 would stay drug free out of rehab over their lives. I also remember vowing I would be that one. While it didn’t work out that way, I have learned a lot, not just about addiction, but more importantly, about myself.
One important lesson was that I have dropped the idea of identifying myself as a junky. That was a lifestyle, a terrible choice I made, but it in no way reflects me as a human being. I also am not blind to the fact that this disease is truly equal opportunity. Name a profession, no matter how respected it is, and the relative ease at finding an addict in that field is sad. Long Sleeved Summers is on the surface, a title that has a very literal meaning, me hiding my track marks in the scorching heat of summer. It is more than that, it is burying the skeleton in the closet, it is sculpting lies out of shit to keep the outside world’s judgements at bay. It is about the sheer fear of reprisals, the rejection by ‘friends’ and colleagues should they ever find out the truth.
Staying sick to feel well. Feeding the disease to save face. We all believe those lies, they allow us to slip further and further away, until the eyes that look out at the world are cold and dead. I still struggle, because life is not an easy undertaking. Getting off drugs is not a magical means to suddenly make living simple. Expecting that days will not bring challenges, that both good and bad things can happen within minutes of each other, is foolish.
I do not advocate my memoir as some cure, it is just one man’s story. I was a trusted health professional, and by the grace of God, I somehow did a job that requires 100% accuracy with just that. I do not say that with an ounce of pride, I say that knowing I was truly being watched over. I have made it through a lot, most notably, multiple deaths. The great thing about life is our ability to choose never stops until our heartbeat does. The sad thing about it is that fear keeps the infection untreated.
Pushing through all of the pain has brought me to this place. 1000 words away from something I can be proud of, something that will allow me to become a small voice, a penlight on a shadow enveloped skyscraper. To be a tiny stream, eroding just a little bit of society’s perceptions. After all, I could be your neighbor, your friend, your son or daughter, your parent, wearing a 3-piece suit, chef coat or hard hat. Underneath the clothes, the relationships, all of it, I am just a human being, and my blood bleeds red. I am not a leper, I am not an evil person looking to intentionally inflict pain. That should not scare anyone. Moreover, I can only hope it begins to open a discussion where we are willing to see the person who has a problem with a needed solution, and not just write them off because they never hit #1 on the Billboard charts or won an Emmy.
Wish me well, it’s going to be a life altering next week for me and I am so grateful to be given a chance, and to put all my efforts behind it, with no fear of failure. My purpose is defined, and I embrace it. Have a good night and great tomorrow.
Peace – MFJ