We are meant to live healthy lives. In confidence can we suggest that we were placed on this earth to be satisfied, happy, sensitive, loving people? The argument could be that no truer statement is meant to be applied to the human condition. We were given the tools to be able to delineate through crisis as well expand upon our successes. So then, the question remains why do we have to live with grief and sadness and despair throughout periods of our lifetime. To add, why are certain people seemingly immune from sadness, from depression, from the nightmarish nature of anxiety and fear? Why then are our outlets for protecting our state of mind sometime so clearly self destructive? We often times would rather choose to feel good instead of facing the demons that become clear roadblocks toward our happiness.
In my life, the essence of happiness was defined at a very early age, when at twelve years old, I lost my cousin to a tragic accident. Until that time our entire family grew up with paired cousins and when Billy died I was left alone, to survive while everyone around though feeling the pain of his loss, went about their lives. My pain was obviously different, I could feel it myself, much like I can still feel it today 50 years later though far more manifest in intellect than the physicality of emotional pain and loss. To be sure his parents and sisters (my cousins) felt tremendous pain with the loss of their brother and son. For me, it was similar perhaps to losing a twin. Though we were not, our age and interests and fantasies of the life ahead of us were quite similar, we didn’t even know yet what awaited our future. Today I have often believed he would be a successful athlete in whatever sport he chose, and by such sentiment I have unknowingly lessened my own worth by virtue of measuring my life against one that did cease to exist as a living human being. As harsh as that might sound, the truth is how can someone base their own life upon a life taken too soon.
On my own I chose outlets that are now today defined as addictions. Many labels have been placed upon various ailments of human frailty – alcoholic, junkie, abuse, addict. When at twelve years old all I wanted was to forget I discovered marijuana and it was like a gift the first time I ever inhaled a joint into my lungs. I remember a feeling of departure like none other and all I had to do was sit back in my chair, lay on my back in the grass, ride my bicycle through a clean summer breeze and nothing mattered at all, nothing at all. I was just myself and the wind and the summer heat, and the soft gentle cocoon of a leather chair until I either passed out or delved into some more. As time went on it was the latter, layered with good music, rock and roll, anything that might inspire my mind to keep traveling in this direction that would seemingly take me away from all of my pain. The error in judgment of course, is it would not last forever. I would always have to go back for more, and now having experienced that initial moment of euphoria, I would always be drawn to seeking it again, never able to quite ever reach the same pinnacle. I remember my brother so aptly defining the reason to me one day. He told me marijuana or drugs in themselves are an artificial stimulant that trigger endorphins already present in the chemical makeup of our bodies. In other words we are capable of reaching those levels on our own without having to rely upon toxins to set off a network of imbalance in our bodies that can take us to exceptional places, temporarily.
The easiest outlet for me to begin was alcohol. Even when Billy and I were running the streets with friends, we had already at twelve delved into the parent liquor cabinets. Experimental at best, but our mischievous laughter and sullen glint in our eyes was a good indication that trouble may not be so far away. When left alone later in the summer of my 13th year, I remember it became common for me to take a couple shots of my dad’s Southern Comfort before I went out to the ball field for baseball with the neighborhood. Before I discovered that little ‘kick’ of confidence, I was terrified to even stand at the plate with a baseball bat in hand. Suddenly I could start placing the ball wherever I wanted to on the field. That had nothing to do with the alcohol beyond its initial impact. What was inside of me was that prowess that I would not let myself find as I became increasingly dependent upon drinking to compensate my insecurity and fear.
Addiction had begun to take hold. I could only convince myself that I was just being part of the crowd, but instead of partaking in the manner of everyone around, I needed that extra push of a joint, and I was soon the one walking around school in a fog. I was the once skipping classes and convincing my friends that I had some weed and let’s take a walk. It is amazing how many ‘friends’ seem busy when you stash has emptied in your pockets. The next few years because I wasn’t of legal age alcohol was accessible at home but marijuana became my go to. I began isolating to my room and listening to music and getting high on my own. When I do go to school on rare occasions, I would because I had a big automobile honk in front and fill the car with friends for many country drives. We used t o a couple of us brag about getting stoned before any standardized tests, and despite the idiocy the silver lining was my scores were usually off the charts. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the result of smoking pot before hand.
So now we enter young adult life. The legal age for drinking was 18 and I remember on my birthday, alone, I entered my first bar and ordered a Manhattan. I ordered three more before I left that bar and found another and another and another, until typical of that time I would be pulled over by a police officer and given a ride home for my own ‘personal safety.’ Obviously today enforcement has advanced in their purposeful address of drinking and driving on the street and I am forever grateful for that. A story for later on in its own chapter.
My addiction traveled in many directions and impacted all aspects of my life including my marriage and certainly my relationship with my children, colleagues, immediate family, and anyone in all respects that I encountered over time. My goal is to address these in the hopes that someone might take away some piece of my own experience to immerse in their own lives and salvage their own peace of mind, because truly there is a wonderful light ahead of us despite our common feeling that in the words of Neil Young, ‘the damage is done.’