I had a childhood that was, by most measures, picturesque and ideal. Two strong parents who would read me bedtime stories and drive me to soccer practice. A pair of older siblings who I idolized and emulated as we navigated our way through the triumphs and pitfalls of youth.
I had a childhood that was, by most measures, picturesque and ideal. Two strong parents who would read me bedtime stories and drive me to soccer practice. A pair of older siblings who I idolized and emulated as we navigated our way through the triumphs and pitfalls of youth. I remember the rattle of a creaky wagon as it lurched its way through a pumpkin patch on Halloween. I remember the Christmas morning when I turned the corner into my living room to see the BMX bike I wanted so badly, perched beneath an intricately decorated tree that seemed bigger than life itself. The foggy New Jersey mornings driving to elementary school with my dad, where I prayed we would hit that one last red light so that we could play another game of I SPY before the day started. The smell of birch and charcoal every summer when my family would open the car door after a six-hour drive to my grandparents’ house in Vermont. The elation of making the travel basketball team for the first time and the ensuing frustration of never getting any playing time. Cradling a newborn puppy in my arms like a priceless gem as my mom drove us home from the breeder. My first sleepover when my friends and I watched an R rated movie and felt as though we were rebels of the most dastardly order, living on the edge as we stayed alert to any indication of being discovered in our mischief.
These moments all live on but as the vaguest of blurs within my cluttered mind. Years, months, days, and moments that are lost in the echoes of existence. Remembered only in the ways that my brain chooses to arrange the fragments of a life I have surely lived but have mostly forgotten. The days march forward and my mind contorts and molds the memories of my childhood into something that is not even real. Holidays and family dinners. Vacations and bike rides. Tears and deep never-ending laughter. All exist as a deep fever dream that passes through my consciousness momentarily when invoked by a mystified and profound sense of confused DejaVu. For a moment I travel back in time and I am there. A small boy with a blank slate, a sense of wonder, and a simplicity of life and happiness. Then it is gone.
When I was fifteen years old I watched my brother and sister live out their high school years as rambunctious rebels. They were repeatedly caught drinking alcohol, smoking pot, and defying my parent’s direct orders. My brother specifically was quickly becoming my idol. He always had friends coming and going from our home and seemed to gain popularity with no effort. He had beautiful girlfriends and witty jokes; strong broad shoulders and sports accolades. I was rail-thin, covered in acne, and couldn’t so much as engage in a conversation with a brick wall let alone a girl or a potential friend. I remember finding a bottle of Jim Beam whiskey under his bed and contemplating taking a sip of his magic tonic that could potentially turn me from a meek boy into the superhero that I perceived him to be. To drink that day would have been bold, and I was far from it.
It would be a year later at 15 when I finally would work up the courage to make my first foray into alcohol. I was a freshman in high school and was invited to a party for the first time. I knew the entire week that when Saturday would arrive that I would finally drink and I knew that I would love it. The night came and in a dusty unfinished basement, I took a shot of ice-cold bottom shelf vodka. Then I took 9 more. I became something that night. I had arrived. I laughed harder than I ever laughed, talked smoother than I ever talked, and felt alive in a way that is indescribable in words. I ended up passed out face first in my throw up. It was the greatest night of my life. When I remember that night I am transported there. The rush of reckless youth pumping through my veins and sound of cheerful defiance ringing my ears.
Following that night, drinking became my bridge to relevance and notoriety. I would eagerly anticipate where we would drink on Fridays and Saturdays so I could come alive, pull daring stunts and talk to pretty girls. I began to smoke weed shortly after. Very quickly I would turn that into a habitable everyday occurrence. I would smoke before school and in between classes. Shuffling my feet through my school’s halls with bleary eyes and slumped shoulders. A soldier in the midst of going AWOL. My music taste changed. I began to fall in love with the Jim Morrisons and Kurt Cobains of the world. The tortured minds and a troubled mischievous soul had a mesmerizing allure. I would watch movies like Scarface and Blow on repeat; subconsciously brewing jealousy for the lifestyles of the anti-heroes, criminals, and hoodlums of the pop-culture universe I was submersing myself in. I listened to the Album “Dirt” by Alice in Chains so many times that I could recite every word. I fell in love with artists and media that depicted struggles of the soul, moral confusion, and nihilism. I still to this day don’t know why I wanted those things so badly. I suppose the frail boy with acne who couldn’t hold a conversation continued to live within me and hungered for mystery, intrigue, and excitement.
Nearly ten years later I would wake up in a detox shaking violently from heroin withdraw. I had become everything that I had wanted, and it was unadulterated misery. I had broken many laws, run from the police, done every drug I could find, and become but a husk of an actual human. What do you do when you wake up one day and you have become everything you ever wanted but you realize that it was all a mistake? What do you do when you wake up one day and you realize that when you traded innocence and youth for excitement and chaos that you have made an irreparable error for which there is no return? I will tell you that in my experience I was filled with fear and regret that flooded my being wholly, completely, and without reprieve. I stretched out of my detox bed and my legs felt so weak they could barely hold the meek weight of my body. I began to quite literally suck the polyester pockets of my thick winter jacket in hopes that fentanyl residue somehow existed there from the sloppy handling of my drugs in the days prior. The pockets were flavorless, fentanyl-less and my sickness continued onward. The cold detox floor was designed with an intricate design of tile depicting a spiral of light grey squares that looked eerily similar to the tile of my childhood homes foyer. For a moment I was there again. My brother, sister and I just kids sitting on the floor, fumbling with boxes of meticulously colored Christmas decorations. The smell of my mother’s cooking lofting through the air and the beautiful melody of my father’s piano playing echoing in the deepest bowels of my eardrum. Then it was gone.
Time is a rally car careening down a desolate peak with bald tires and slashed break lines. We all live with the past behind us however, we will never live within it. The good and the bad. In that detox I had nothing. No money, no hope, and no desire to continue onward in an unforgiving and cold world. All I had left was a mind that raced with a variety of memories that I would vacillate between like I was flipping through distorted cable channels. I remembered my first day of high school and felt the sensation of terror infused uncertainty in the pit of my stomach. I remembered my first kiss with Jayne at 15 and the sweat that enveloped my palms. I remembered my first psychiatric ward at 19 and felt the sharp pain of a Thorazine shot in my ass. I remembered calm childhood summer nights playing in the yard and dope sick winter mornings of my late adolescents. I remembered dreams and aspirations long ago forgotten. I remembered regret and failure that had crushed me under the weight of the world. I remembered love, sadness, victory, and defeat. Then I blinked and I was back. Sitting in detox with my life in ruin. Sitting in detox with a future marred by total uncertainty.
Here’s the thing. The golden moments of my childhood that I previously mentioned, the pumpkin patches and the family vacations, are not at all grounded in truth. I am not a reliable narrator. The truth of the matter is that I make an unconscious choice to remember my childhood as a wonderful and innocent place. It allows me to escape to somewhere beautiful in my mind as an aversion to whatever the present reality is offering me at any given moment. When I forcibly remove the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and recall that time with pure honesty, I become unsettled. Even as a small boy my mind raced with anxiety and uncertainty.
I was slightly overweight as a kid and I would never want to go to school because of my inability to connect with my classmates. I dealt with bullying daily and the worst had come from my own older brother. He would belittle me daily and poke at my insecurities with the precision of a brain surgeon. Every vacation my family I ever went on I would isolate myself way in a hotel room or a cruise cabin for the entirety of the trip. I would somehow come back from the Bahamas or Jamaica paler than when I arrived there. My mother would drink at night and become an entirely different person. At my first sleepover in 5th grade, she fell over on my basement floor in front of my prospective friends, filling me with shame and embarrassment. I didn’t do very well in school and had to be evaluated for ADHD on several occasions due to concerns expressed by my grade-school teachers. I despised taking off my shirt in front of anyone and would consistently get changed for gym class in bathrooms stalls to avoid doing so in the locker room. My parents would fight and scream at each other on a nearly nightly basis and my father would rarely sleep in the same bed as my mom. I was terrified of the dark and used to sleep with all the lights on in my room. I would sit in my bed every night and dream of the future.
I would live there. What would I be like when I am older? When I cried due to my lack of friends my mother would console me by telling me that I would grow up to be bigger, stronger, and more handsome than all the children that shunned me from their social circles. I would imagine being an adult with the freedom to live life as I wanted to. I would imagine being fully grown, fit, and successful. I could feel the sun on my skin as I traveled the world and the wind on my face as I drove a car for the first time. I was filled with a rush of excitement when I thought of seeing my beautiful date when I would finally go to my senior prom one day. I could close my eyes and see a future where no one could tell me what to do or how to do it. I could see myself in my twenties; tall, handsome and perfectly fitting into a bustling and interesting world. Then I would blink and it was gone. I would be back. A chubby young boy who felt like an alien dressed up in a human costume. Lying in bed with all the lights on in constant fear of the demons that lived in my room. My ears privy to the faint echoes of my mother’s drunken insults being hurled at my father.
I have never really been here. I am a time traveler. It’s a sobering thought, that the past is just as uncertain as the future is. Regardless of where I go in my head, it always seems that anything is a better alternative to the reality of the present moment. That is the true conflict of my soul. That is what drugs and alcohol did for me. It turned off the time machine in my head and finally put me in the now. I would use heroin and instantly past and future evaporated. I would be forced into my present body by the chemical eruption that was taking place in my brain. The consequences of my addiction ceased to mean anything as “tomorrow” became but a hollow specter of nothingness devoid of meaning. The drugs wear off and suddenly the past and future come alive. Raised from the dead by the insidious reaper of sobriety.
For me, that was the true crux of winning my battle with addiction and gaining long term sobriety. Sitting in that detox in New Jersey I was enveloped by a war with time itself. As the effects of my intoxicants left my body, the hands on the clock began to march forward and I had to begin a journey of facing the blunt realities of existence. Looking behind me and realizing the things I had done and the people I had hurt. The friends that had died and the mistakes I had made. The missed opportunities and utter failures. Failing out of school. Robbing my dying grandfather. Stealing my mother’s jewelry. Check fraud and grand larceny. In front of me was a path of equal scrutiny. What would I do with my life? How will I repair these relationships? How will I ever work a real job or have a normal life? What do I do when I get out of this detox? What’s next? Who even am I?
Time is a rally car careening down a desolate peak with bald tires and slashed break lines. My physical body may be in the driver seat but my thoughts live elsewhere. I simultaneously am at the peak I came from as well as off the edge of the cliff I am heading for. The present moment is but the tip of a needle sandwiched between two infinite oceans of ambiguity. I am over 3 years into my journey of sobriety. Through trials and tribulations based upon following a path of spirituality, I have become acutely aware that my mind wants me to exist anywhere except the present moment. A close friend and mentor of mine always quotes John Milton and says “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
I am not a reliable narrator. My sobriety has been the self-realization that the avoidance of the present is my greatest struggle. The past occurred but only in the ways, I choose to remember it. The future is as real as the ghost that lived in my closet as a kid. Yet let to my own devices I will choose to live in those places. In alcoholics anonymous, they say “one day at a time” meaning that the only thing you have to concern yourself with is the present moment. It is right on the money. Sometimes I find myself closing my eyes and being in that pumpkin patch. I will hear the screaming of my intoxicated mother. I will feel the Thorazine shot. I will see the spiral tiled floor of my detox. I will see myself married and in a beautiful house somewhere with a family. I will be enveloped by the pain of older age and imagine working jobs that don’t yet exist. Then I blink and it is gone. I am back in the present moment. However these days I am not upset by that. I have crafted a present moment where I am proud of who I am. On the good days and the bad, true peace is finally being able to turn off the time machine in my head.