"You don't have to think about doing the right thing. If you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking."
~ Maya Angelou

November 2, 2011

You Gotta Learn Sometime

I found myself frustrated a bit today, when really I had no control of the situation that was producing this.  It didn't take me long to find that place that tells me "it's going to be OK, this is only temporary."  I was able to get to this place and find a source of strength and inspiration based on a story I was exposed to last night on ESPN through their film series 30 for 30. http://espn.go.com/espn/espnfilms/story/_/id/6961212/unguarded .  The story is about a gentleman named Chris Herren, a high school basketball phenom in the 90's who went on to college ball at the Division 1 level, and then on to play in the NBA and overseas.  However, the legend of Chris Herren concealed a darker side, and his dream soon became a nightmare of drug addiction—first alcohol, then cocaine, finally heroin.  It's a story that I have been exposed to before through the interactions in the field, my practice, books I have read and the stories I have heard.  It is a plight that I have come to learn though the eyes of others so clearly.  I have found strength and inspiration from these stories in a manner that has always shown me how easily one can fall, and fall hard.  Chris grew up in a blue collar, east coast town that as he and his friends said "you played hard on the court, but you played even harder once you left the court."  I understood that from my own time on the east coast, socialized by very similar forces, ones that force you to make a decision, do you want to fit in and belong, or do you want to be left by yourself, all the while you are primarily coping with the forces inside that no one (including yourself at the time) understands, or can truly see.

My story is no where as severe as Chris' that is for sure.  However, I have had my own battles with alcohol and drugs over the years, and it all began in a place, and at a time very much similar to what Chris was exposed to.  I remember it quite clearly.  The year was 1985, I was a teenager in pain, and I was angry. When you combine those two forces, alcohol and drugs can easily become a way to cope.  Then you add the fact that I was really never exposed to heavy usage or influence from others before this time in my life. I dabbled a little, but it was real minor.  That changed real soon, and shortly after I arrived I was exposed to and immersed into the small town mentality of playing real hard off the court.  I remember one of my first experiences when I was hanging out at some remote pull off, away from the heat and others who would of caused trouble.  I got drunk real quick, like a couple of beers, and my new friends made fun of me and laughed about how easily I got drunk, I was definitely a rookie in their minds.  It didn't take me long to advance into the world of heavy/binge drinking, the world that said "if you weren't drunk, then you weren't having fun or their was something wrong with you." Yup, at 15 I was socialized into a way that took me years and many battles to recognize that this way was not OK, it wasn't having fun, and if anything it led to many problems over the years.

I remember the first day of my senior year in high school, the plan was to meet an hour before school started at one of our spots so we could drink, and drink heavily.  I guess the idea was to be smashed and start the year off the right way.  My senior breakfast was a pint of liquor, 3 beers, and then some in the matter of 45 minutes or so, and then it was off to school.  An hour into school I couldn't even function, and got sick right on my desk in the middle of math class.  As I was escorted out heading to the nurses office, I couldn't even stand and I literally had someone holding me up as I walked away.  It was legendary at the time, talked about for years, but for me it was just another example of a troubled kid trying to find where he fit in.  You would of thought I would of learned a lesson or two from that experience. Not exactly as there were many instances that surrounded alcohol and drugs during that year.  The ending of which almost cost me my life.

I just finished up with my last final exam as a senior, one in which I needed to pass, if I didn't I was not graduating from high school.  To celebrate the end of our high school days a bunch of us went out and did what we did.  First stop was the liquor store and since I was the designated driver that evening I would have the usual, a six pack of beer versus the standard 12 pack for the non drivers.  As the night moved forward we found ourselves caught up with some fools racing and chasing each other in our cars high above the Hudson River.  The road (route 218) was a narrow, windy route that rested several thousand feet above the river.  In most spots the speed limit was 20-30 mph, I was going 60 mph when I crashed into the mountain side of the road.  My face literally crashed into the hard plastic steering wheel, crushing the top row of  my teeth and gums into my nasal cavity, blood profusely coming out of my mouth.  Believe it or not none of the passengers were injured.  The harsh reality was that if we would of crashed into the river side of the road we would of most likely died on that day, no doubt about it.  Once again I was the talk of the town, all stitched up with gauze in my mouth as I sat in my cap and gown (I barely passed that chemistry exam and was able to graduate). I have a reminder of that moment that has been with me for nearly 25 years now, my top row of teeth is a bridge (fake), truly lucky to walk away with just that. I am not proud of any of those moments that happened many years ago.  However, they are clearly a reminder to me that I could of easily went the other way, a place that who knows where I would be today.  I chose not to, and I have fought hard over the years to better myself, never forgetting where I have been.

Unguarded is a story about a man who had to get to that place in his own world, one that included much pain and suffering.  To learn more about Chris Herren check out his memoir "Basketball Junkie" (along with Bill Reynolds) that tells the whole story. http://www.basketballjunkie.net/   It's on my list but will have to wait as I have a few books that I am currently vested in.  There is so much that goes into battling and overcoming the madness that addiction and dependency can produce.  It takes a lot of everything, and each individuals plight is different.  However, when you finally surrender and commit to changing for the better, you are one step closer to the quality of life you deserve to have, can have, and need to have in order to move forward in a healthy and positive manner.  Once you get to this place a little frustration is the easiest part of the day, it's all good.  Thank you for hearing another part of my story. I know you can hear me, and with that there will be much more to come when the time presents itself.  Until our next meeting of the minds be strong, stand up, and stay up!
How sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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