Several months ago, I had the unexpected privilege of sharing my heart with a room full of folks battling and in various stages of recovery from drug, alcohol, and other addictions at a residential treatment facility in the Mountain West. It was the last place on earth I ever expected to find myself. That likely was evident from the freshly pressed khaki pants and button-down Polo shirt I was wearing and the fish-out-of-water body language that I’m certain was oozing out of every pore of my skin. But, I’d promised someone I care deeply about that I’d be there to witness her graduation from the program and so there I was – in the front row no less – feeling quite content to mind my own business. Unbeknownst to me, however, the staff had very different intentions. Apparently, it had become customary for invited guests of program graduates to speak (or at least be given an opportunity to speak) in support of their loved one at the end of the ceremony and, as I found the microphone being passed to me, I realized that night would be no exception. I also realized, from the tightness that immediately took my chest hostage and my racing heart, that I wasn’t prepared to speak.
“You were never meant to be here,” I began, wondering where those words had come from and then surrendering to the Spirit that gave birth to them as a hush fell over the room. “You were never meant to stick a needle in your arm, hold a spoon full of crack or meth over an open flame, put a rolled up $20 bill in your nose, pour alcohol into your body until you passed out, cut yourself, or starve yourself until the distortions that only you see in the morning mirror, match the “perfect” image of self your eating disorder voice demands. And those things were never meant to become the centerpiece of your life, your reason for getting out of bed in the morning, the objects of your “affection”, the things for which you’d “gladly” sacrifice everything and everyone you once held dear – your friends, spouses, partners, siblings, faith, freedom, employment – even your self-respect. And yet, that’s exactly what happened and here you are – some for the first time, others likely for the second or third – searching for answers, trying to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘what’s next’, and hurting. I know, because I don’t even know you, and I hurt for you, as I’m sure do those who do know and love you”.
“I want you to close your eyes for a minute,” I continued. “I want you to think back to a 4-year-old ‘you’ playing with your friends at the neighborhood park. I want you to try and remember what that looked, felt, and sounded like – the smell of the freshly cut grass, the wind in your hair as you chased your friends from one play station to the next, the feel of the sand against your skin, the sound of laughter, the warmth of the sun, the fear and exhilaration of going down ‘the big slide’ for the first time. That ‘you’ didn’t even know what drugs or alcohol, or eating disorders, or addictions were. You didn’t give a second thought to the past or have a moment’s anxiety about the future. You were engaged in the moment and fully alive. It wasn’t that you didn’t experience the full range of human emotions (e.g., joy, sadness, anger, love, hate, frustration, pain, comfort, kindness, etc.). You did – intensely – often all in the same day! It’s just that, perhaps intuitively, you knew that they were just feelings, that they would come and go, so you didn’t get stuck in them. That uniquely beautiful, carefree, innocent version of ‘you’ is the reason I can say – with confidence – ‘you were never meant to be here’ – and yet here you are. So, what happened?
Life happened. S*#t happened. I know because it happens to all of us. Sometimes it happens through no fault of our own and no matter how careful we are in trying to avoid it (e.g., a traumatic event, a breach of trust, the unexpected loss of a loved one, a radical change in circumstances, a sense that life is hopelessly spinning out of control, etc.). Sometimes we pile it on ourselves. We don’t do it intentionally. We’re human. We make bad choices. Those bad choices have consequences. Some are really harsh and hurtful. But, regardless of the source, the end result is the same: Before we know it, the playground version of us gets buried under a mountain of ‘adult’ debris and begins to suffocate. Sometimes the weight of it all is too much to bear and we make even worse choices. We try to run away from the pile and hide, rather than commit to digging ourselves out – one shovel (or spade) at a time. We isolate. We numb. Eventually, we forget that little boy or girl gasping for air is even there, let alone what their love of life, quest for adventure and curiosity feels like, and we end up here – lost, ashamed, afraid it can’t be undone. But, it can. That “you” is still in there,” I said through tear-stained eyes.
“Look, I’m not a doctor or a therapist or an addiction specialist. I can’t tell you how to get from Point A to Point B. I’m also not suggesting for a minute that anything about the journey is easy. Truth is: It’s probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. But, I believe this with every fiber of my being: You were never meant to be here. This is not the fullness of life you were called to. That’s out there,” I said pointing to the door. “It’s on that playground. And, I encourage you to do whatever it takes and spend however long is required to get back there.”
Don Blackwell is an attorney at Bowman and Brooke, LLP in Dallas, Texas. He also is the author of “Dear Ashley . . .” – A Father’s Reflections and Letters to His Daughter on Life, Love, and Hope and an avid blogger (www.donblackwell.wordpress.com)
He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @donblackwell4