Hola mi Gente,
I usually post this around this time of year… because it never fails, someone will tell me that reading the following helped them, or they shared it with someone they thought it could help. So… here goes…
My life is my message
The cliché that life is stranger than fiction is true enough. And believe me: my life has been pretty much strange. Thanksgiving Day has its own personal meaning for me, as I am certain it does for everyone. Thanksgiving Day has layers of meaning.
However, for me Thanksgiving holds its most significant meaning on a very personal level. You see, it was on this day thirty-one years ago that I experienced the first of a series of awakenings that would drastically change my life.
The exact date is November 26, 1990 and it often happens that it falls on or near Thanksgiving Day. A couple of weeks before that day, on a cold, blustery November day, I was so overcome with despair that I considered and attempted suicide. It is actually a little funny: As I climbed over the rail on the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walk (it’s not easy to jump off that damned bridge), I was so skinny from malnutrition and years of substance abuse that a strong Nor’easter wind knocked me back on my ass on to the pedestrian walkway. I saw this inability to take myself “off the count” as the ultimate failure which gives you an idea of my state of mind at the time.
I walked away from that only to opt for a more torturous route: the daily act of chasing heroin. Ensnared by my warped thinking, I had this fear that I would botch up my own suicide and merely succeed in paralyzing myself, condemning myself to pursue drugs from the disadvantage of a wheelchair. In fact, I remember an addict who copped drugs in a wheelchair. I decided I would make someone else put myself out of my misery.
And though I speak lightly today of that time, I was so miserable. During my 20s, I lived like a rock star. I partied hard, drugged harder, chased women – I was basically a speeding train of danger. Somewhere during this period, I lost control (if I ever had any) and I went from youthful rascal to a hard-core user.
One night, on the eve of my birthday, I was getting drunk with my stepfather. By that time I had progressed to the point that when I drank, I became mean and looked for fights and discord. That night, I instigated a heated argument between my mother and my stepfather, and I left once I saw my mother was about to drop kick me. For whatever weird reason, I went to sleep under a car in the garage. I am not clear, because I was so out of it, and other than a therapist, I have never shared that I vaguely remember my stepfather, Vincent, trying to wake me up, he begged to talk with me, but I did not want to be bothered and told him to leave alone. Later, my family found me only to tell me Vincent had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in front of his son, our youngest sibling.
I cannot say that Vincent’s suicide caused me to go off the rails, there were so many traumas (some intergenerational) competing for that prize, but it did serve to tip me over. I ran from my family and I used the guilt of my stepfather’s suicide and my running away to punish myself. It took me a long time to understand that Vincent was probably suffering from clinical depression and the horrible actions of that night were not my fault. But I genuinely believed I caused it and all the ramifications. The years passed as I fell deeper and deeper into my addiction…
I do not believe in a God in the traditional Christian/ Judeo sense — an anthropomorphic omnipotent super being. However, back then I would pray each night that some Higher Power would find it in its mercy to take my life in my sleep. Yet, every day I awoke to my pain and despair. I would always wake up sick and broke, but towards the end of my active addiction I somehow managed to spend $300 a day, feeding a merciless heroin habit.
If you are wondering, the source of income for my drug habit came about by ripping off drug-dealers, never a safe proposition. One day a victim of one of my scams threatened me with a gun. I grabbed the gun by the barrel, put it to my forehead, and begged him to shoot. All I asked was that he made sure to kill me because, “You would be doing me a favor, motherfucker.” This occurred in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded New York City street. I remember people screaming; but what I remember most was thinking that this was my way out. “Do it,” I yelled. He pulled the trigger and…
I don’t know if the gun jammed or if it wasn’t loaded, whatever the reason, the gun failed to discharge. My would-be “assistant suicider” freaked out, yanked the gun from my hands, and walked away. I called after him, letting him know he could get another chance. That is how much I wanted to die. And again, I thought, I could do nothing right.
That was not the worst of it, my life continued to bottom out until November 26th, 1990 when I experienced an incident so traumatic it would change me and my world in an unfathomable way. Actually, most people would consider the events that transpired on that cold, dreary November day as a defeat. Very simply, after being released from New York City’s infamous penal colony, Rikers Island, for exactly fourteen days, I was re-arrested. It was also that last day of my active addiction — the last day I took a drug.
I did not know it then but it was the beginning of a new life: a life that today is far from perfect, that has suffering, illness, death — the full catastrophe of life — but also encompasses an invincible joy at its core. This is part of the reason I do the work that I do. I know from personal experience that even the worst of us have the potential to liberate ourselves from socially constructed or self-made prisons. And let me be clear: we are all “doing time” in some way, we all wear shackles. To a degree, we all enact patterns of behavior or carry the proverbial baggage.
No, I am not a religious person. My personal view is that religion is for people who are afraid of hell and spirituality is for those who have already been there. And for me, at least, spirituality is really about connection. I simply try to be the best person I can be on a daily basis and oftentimes I fall short of the mark. However, my intentions are generally good and my direction somewhat orderly. I try to live a life centered on compassion for others, personal growth, self-actualization, and a passion for social change.
On that day, thirty-one years ago, I had no way of knowing of the possibility of life as it has manifested itself for me today. These past few years have been challenging. Some of that that has to do with being unemployed for a prolonged length of time. At one point, I almost lost all my property in storage, my cellphone had been cut off, I was living with my sister… well, you get the idea. Even now, my living situation is still tenuous though I have been working at well-paying job for some time. Yet, throughout it all, I have somehow managed to maintain some measure of sanity and achieve some serenity.
Amid all my problems, however, I never picked up a drug and was even able to find some measure of happiness. It is a happiness independent of any person, place, or thing. On the surface I can be sad, happy, angry, disappointed, sick, depressed, disgusted — I can be experiencing any number of attachments — but at the center, at the very core of me, there is an invincible joy greater than any drug-induced high I have ever experienced. And believe me, coming from me, that is saying a lot.
On that day thirty-one years ago, sitting there in the midst of total failure and utter humiliation, I came undone. And that was a good thing, because in experiencing complete obliteration I became open to something more than my small self. In emptying myself, I came to see that what I perceived as a void was in reality my innate and boundless potential as a human being.
I am genuinely grateful. As I said before, I have experienced sadness, frustration, happiness, love, rejection — all of it. I could easily surmise, if I were so disposed, that my life, that life itself, sucks. But that is a coward’s lie. Life is a gift, probably the most precious of gifts. My life today is like a redemption song — a song of freedom. And at the very least there is nothing worse (or better) than that fateful day thirty-one years ago. Today I woke up and I am… here… I am free… and for that I am most grateful.
May you all have as much to be thankful for.
My name is Eddie and I am in recovery from civilization…