The main body of text says: Okay – so I’m makin’ this in the car so it’s gonna be sloppy. I forgot to get you a California souvenir but that’s okay ’cause I figured it’d be cute/funny to just pick something up on the ride back. It’s a keychain. I think it says “Kansas City Wildcats” but I forget and I might have lost it already, even though I just bought it five minutes ago. BUT (since I like you) I figured I owe you one better than that. And I don’t ever make free art for ANYONE anymore so I thought it’d be real sweet of me to do that. It’s fucked up but I already had the thought that – the next time I make a gesture like this (presumably for some other girl) it’s not gonna mean as much. [That’s the kind of thing you’re not supposed to say in a “love letter” / piece of art dedicated/for the girl you like]. That’s okay. That’s me. Maybe I’ll leave Chicago next week, maybe never. Maybe you won’t like me anymore tomorrow and it won’t even matter where I am in relation to you. Also, you’re twenty so whatever (“forever“). Here are some funny faces. They are SYMBOLIC of the crush I have on you.
After that, there are a couple smaller bits of text. First: This is more honest and less cool than it should be, so you don’t like me too much. But if that’s my intention, why am I making it at all? OOOOOHHHH – I’m so complex!
Second: Between this and the love song Chris and Mike are listening to on the radio, I’ve decided that the whole enterprise of love letters is bullshit. It’s all ego and vanity. Or maybe this song just sucks and I’m self-absorbed. I don’t know but your smile makes me really happy sometimes.
So there you have it. A Sammy thrashLife love letter. More about me than it is about the object of my affection but just charming enough to sort of perform its function. Equal parts “fall in love with me” and “don’t get too invested.” One thing’s certain: it’s definitely a thing that exists.
In my last entry, I mentioned that I was kicked out of Tranquil Shores on October 3, 2012. For tonight’s entry, I was all set to write about my first watercolor painting when I remembered something that will help convey the transformation that took place between Nothing Helps and that painting. It’s the letter I wrote to Tranquil Shores’ clinical director, late at night on October 4 – about forty hours after my discharge.
Seeing as my track record for honesty in those days was a little spotty, I’d like to preface the letter with the statement that it was absolutely free of bullshit. Every word was written with total sincerity.
When I found out I was being discharged, I was genuinely shocked. The comments I made were nonsense to mask my hurt about the fact that I was still struggling to control my emotions and behavior. And you had always seen that. “Why was this incident any different?” I wondered.
On the way back to property, I fell apart. Why was I in this position again? Why did I have to be me? I stayed in that state of self-pity for hours. By sometime that afternoon, I dropped it in favor of anger. I told my friends that called, “They kicked me out for the same reason they had said it was the right place for me.” I was the victim; you had turned on me. But that faded too. My next phase is hard to describe. It was a struggle. But I still felt, as I had initially, that this was all some kind of misunderstanding. It stayed with me through the rest of Wednesday and carried over through this (Thursday) morning. It was during this time that I left Rob the voicemail that I’m guessing you’ve heard about.
Only later did everything finally make sense. Mask or no mask. Defense mechanism or the sincere boasts of an arrogant manipulator. My intentions and my actual feelings were irrelevant. The things I said were dangerous – even if I was just concealing pain, my comments suggested to the other patients that recalcitrance paid. I had to be discharged. Overlooking my behavior on this occasion would only reinforce, in the minds of the other patients, that we could get away with anything – even be rewarded for it. You had given me plenty of chances to change, even as I damaged the community with my negativity.
Forgetting everyone else for a moment – discharge was the right decision for my benefit. While I know I’ve made progress at Tranquil Shores, I realize now that I was still severely lacking. Something wasn’t clicking.
I believe wholeheartedly that that something has clicked now. I needed the discharge as a wake up call. I see my part now. The only way I could learn was the hard way. What matters though is that I learned. I get it. And I’m more determined than ever to really work. Though I know that I can do this work anywhere, I believe that nowhere can I be more successful than at Tranquil Shores. I don’t know that I deserve another chance but I can promise that, should I be given one, it won’t be wasted. I can’t guarantee perfection, but I can promise the most earnest, sincere, dedicated effort I’m capable of (and that my capacity for that effort is exponentially greater today than it was before).
If you give me this opportunity, it will be the greatest thing anyone has ever done for me. And it will not send the message of “he got away with it” to the other clients because it will be immediately apparent to everyone that I am not the same person I was just yesterday or even this morning. Meet with me. If you sense the slightest bit of resentment, defiance, or insincerity, turn me away. If you give me the chance and it surfaces later, discharge me forever.
I know I’ve been difficult but I believe I can redeem myself in a way few people are ever determined. Give me this chance, please, and I will not disappoint. If you decide against my plan, I’ll understand. But I will continue (1) to remain abstinent from drugs (including alcohol), (2) attending meetings, (3) talking with my new sponsor (as well as my new and old supports), (4) working my treatment plan, and (5) occasionally pestering you to reconsider. I can do this and become a whole person and I have faith that Tranquil Shores is the best place for me to succeed.
Thank you for your consideration and for everything you’ve done for me, whether or not I’m ever permitted to return.
Status Update (12/16/13):
I had two good conversations with two good friends today. Made some progress toward the publishing of my first book. And I dyed my hair green.
In early November, Alexis and I were “just friends” but it was obvious that something was going on. We walked into the room laughing, toward some empty chairs near Delia. “So when are you two going to get married?” she asked. “Pffft… What are you talking about? We’re just friends,” I said as we sat down. Alexis turned and whispered in my ear: “So… when are we going to get married?” I smiled. At this point, that kind of flirting was still a bit of a lapse in our usual insistence (even to one another) that this was a strictly platonic friendship. “Hmm…That’s a pretty serious commitment. I might need some time to think about it.”
A few minutes into the meeting, I motioned her in a little closer. “Okay, so here’s the deal,” I whispered in her ear, “We’re not allowed to be in relationships until we’ve had a year clean, right? So we can’t date until next August… Recovery: twelve steps, the last of which is “helping other addicts,” which is why – you know – the joke about fucking someone you meet in recovery is “the thirteenth step.” So – from that – you could say that the fourteenth step is getting married. So… 12, 13, 14: December 13th, 2014. By then, we’ll have known each other for two and a half years, in which we got our year clean, started dating, and then spent a year and a half together as a couple. 12-13-14.” I pulled back from her ear with a smile to see her reaction. She loved it. She looked giddy.
Alexis: I love you. I wish we could communicate like before but I guess this is how It’s supposed to be. I’m sorry for being a shit but I’ve been working out my own demons. It isn’t easy on my own but I’m managing. Will I get to see you again?
Sam: You can see me pretty much anytime you want to.
A: That’s not true. I can’t leave the county. Have you talked to Tracy since you left [Tranquil Shores]?
[Tracy was my counselor, as well as hers]
S: I didn’t leave. I was just desperate to get you to open up. And I was hurt and angry – feeling like you had locked me out. Feeling unloved, neglected, and rejected. So I was probably trying to fuck with you a little bit. To get a reaction out of you and get you to call me back for once. I’m sorry for doing that.
A: So you didn’t leave? You LIED TO ME? Played mind games?
S: Yes. And not that there’s any excuse for it, but that’s what I felt like you were doing to me when you’d disappear for four days. Or lie to me and promise that you’d call me at a certain time and then ignore my calls and just text me a day later. But like I said, two wrongs don’t make a right. You’re going through your own shit, I’ve got my shit. So – yeah – I’m sorry. I was hurt and desperate to get you to talk to me.
A: This is what our relationship has become?
S: Lexi, I didn’t do this alone. You can’t put it all on me. You practically ended our relationship on New Year’s Eve when you disappeared all week and then refused to tell me anything about what’s going on.
A: What have you been going through?
S: There was this girl that I was totally crazy for. We met up one night and I told her how much I loved her. She told me how much she loved me and how she knew it was for real. And I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to see her again. We made plans for NYE but she never called me back. And then, when she did – days later – she wouldn’t tell me anything about what was going on. But I knew something serious was happening because she also stopped going to groups and seeing her counselor (who she had always seemed to love). I didn’t know what was up, but I was terrified for her. Because I loved her and cared about her so much. Even a week later, she was still being spotty and still wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I would have told her anything but she wouldn’t tell me even one thing. It got to be more than I could handle. It hurt too much, worrying about what this girl was going through and at the same time dealing with the pain of being locked out by someone that I had bared my soul to and opened up in a way I never had before.
S: That’s what I was going through.
A: I’m not dead, Sam.
S: I know you’re not dead. But there were a few days where I was afraid you might be. And I’m still scared that you might be mixed up in something dangerous. But I’m not letting it get to me.
A: I’m here for you. Always.
S: Kid, I love you to death, but you can’t say that. You’re NOT always there for me. You won’t ever answer my calls or call me and you only respond to my texts half the time. But that’s okay. I accept that.
A: So because you’re assuming everything, that’s how you want us to be?
S: No. I want us to be partners. But I can’t always get what I want, so I’m settling for being your friend. To whatever extent you’ll allow me to be.
S: If I could, I’d see you every day. But if all you want from me is the occasional text, I’ll take what I can get.
A: We did see each other every day. We had that. I want to hear from you daily and see you.
S: Can I call you so we can talk for a minute?
A: Talk of what?
S: About whatever. I can just tell you about my weekend. I just like to hear your voice ’cause I miss you.
S: If you don’t want to talk on the phone, that’s fine. You don’t have to stop texting me just to avoid it.
S: Hey – by the way – did you see that picture of my Lexi tattoo?
A: What tattoo?
S: The ghost from the painting I made way back in October when I first started trying to figure out if I was in love with you or if I even knew what love was or if I was capable of loving someone. And – next to it – “14.” Because I did it on 1/2/13 (the same numbers in the same order as 12/13). So – you know – to complete the number: 12/13/14.
A: Where’d you tattoo it on your body? That’s seriously about me? Wow, Sammy.
S: It’s right above my right knee, in the only spot that I don’t ever patch on my jeans so that it’ll always show.
A: Where’s mine gonna be?
S: Wherever you want it to be. But you’d actually have to meet up with me to get it. Will I get to see you sometime this week?
A: Up until an hour ago, I thought you’ve been in Sarasota. I definitely crave and truly miss your energy. Why the ghost though?
S: In the painting?
S: This sound lame but (when I made it) it was because I felt possessed or haunted by doubt and uncertainty. And then (when I did the tattoo) – even though I didn’t doubt my feelings anymore and knew that I loved you – it made sense to reuse it. Not just because that was the first thing I painted about my feelings for you but also because I felt like you had disappeared. You were there one minute and gone the next. Like a ghost. Which was scary (like a ghost) because I thought you might be dead… like a ghost. And I was upset again – about something going on with us – just like i had been when I first painted it.
S: I miss you a ton, kid. I still think about you all the time. One of these days, you’ll have to let me come see you, or at least hear your voice. But it’s nice even just to text.
A: I’m laying in bed so I don’t sound cute right now. Sleepy and in pain.
S: You always sound cute but it’s okay if you don’t feel like talking. Sorry to hear you’re in pain. What hurts?
A: I pulled a muscle.
A: Think I may just be getting old.
S: Aw. I’m really sorry to hear that. I pulled a muscle in my arm that’s been hurting for a week now. Not bad though (sometimes not at all). I hope it feels better soon.
S: Yours, I mean. I hope YOURS feels better. Mine, I can manage.
A: Lol. You’re cute. We’re just linked and connected in some strange cosmic way I suppose. It feels good to talk to you. You make me feel at peace. It’s weird to explain.
S: You don’t have to explain a thing. Even if it’s just texting, you make me feel the same way. When I’m not losing my mind worried about you, you’re pretty much my favorite person on the planet.
S: And hopefully those days are done with. I’m gonna do my best to just hold it down and deal even if I can’t get in touch with you for days.
A: That’s where trust and faith come into play.
S: Yeah, you’re absolutely right.
A: Don’t lose your mind. And I couldn’t possibly be your favorite person. There are a lot more interesting people out there.
S: Well, you’ll have to introduce me to some of them then, I guess. I sure haven’t found them on my own.
A: Stop making me smile. It hurts.
S: So when I get my “vehicle” this week, you gonna let me come over and tattoo you?
A: What vehicle?
S: If I tell you, you promise not to make fun of me?
S: I’m getting a scooter. I should have it by Sunday. Not exactly a car, but it’s a start. Plus, I can paint it and cover it in stickers and stuff, so it’ll be REALLY, REALLY PUNK.
A: I love it. Fucking adorable and so totally punk.
S: So does this mean I can scoot on over and draw something under your skin?
A: I’m laying down now. It’s time I try to get back to a schedule of early bedtime, up early.
S: Okay, I should do the same.
A: I love you, Sammy. Sweet dreams.
S: Love you too, kid. Sleep tight.
If you’re reading that and thinking, “Nobody writes messages like that,” you’re half right. Mine are unedited but she writes messages like a normal human being (without “proper” capitalization/punctuation, with typos, etc.); so I changed that when I typed this up for… um… uniformity? Otherwise, it’s pretty much a straight transcript.
When asked about this tattoo, I don’t usually mention the girl – only that the ghost is my emblem for borderline personality disorder (as it came from an expressive art piece created in the midst of an episode / incident of particularly strong “symptoms” – and used in later pieces when I was either experiencing or commenting on the same). Both explanations are equally true (and very much related).
The first thing about this conversation that jumps out at me is the way I was trying so hard to be okay with what was going on, when I should have just turned my back and ran. She wasn’t in a good place and I had “fallen down” with girls in situations just like thisso many times.
Second: She says “That’s where trust and faith come into play” and I respond, “You’re absolutely right.” She was absolutely wrong insofar as she was suggesting that I should trust (and have faith in) her. And I knew that even then. But I chose to knowingly misunderstand her, which enabled me to agree with her. Because I did have trust and faith (or I was trying to have them anyway). Not in her – (she was obviously fucking up hard) – but in … everything, I guess. I was trying to believe that everything was happening exactly as it needed to (or – at the very least – the only way that it could happen). Whatever had happened so far, I was just hoping that she’d spin herself back into Tranquil Shores before shit got really bad.
Strange: the last thing I made had the word “fuck” crossed out because I felt like I was unnecessarily using that word more often than I needed to. And yet the two pieces that I made the following week… well…
“Fuck This.” September 12th, 2012. Tempera. 12×18″.
“Fucking Miracles.” September 12th, 2012. Mixed media. 12×18″.
“Fuck This” is the result of my decision to blow off art therapy group that day and try to paint a bench. It didn’t work out. Later that day, I made “Fucking Miracles,” a birthday present for Candace. It took seven hours.
No journal excerpt today. Instead…
Letter to Candace. Written April 21st, 2013.
I guess you weren’t done fucking up, huh? That’s okay. I’m glad nothing too terrible happened and I’m glad you’re back in treatment. Everybody knows that I wasn’t exactly a quick learner either and if you relapsed and are inpatient again, it’s ‘cause you needed to relapse and be inpatient again. All of this shit happens exactly as it’s supposed to happen. You didn’t get what you needed last time around, but hopefully you’ll get it this time around. Now that your parents aren’t having to pay for it, the only consequence (for everyone but yourself) is the emotional toll, which is only as significant as we allow it to be. For you, I’m choosing to see the only real consequence as being wasted time. You’ve been cycling in and out of rehabs for a while. In theory, I guess that cycle could continue indefinitely, but (more likely) at some point, you’ll either “recover” or die. I’d like to believe that it’ll be the former.
Speaking as someone who’s spent a good chunk of his life stuck in serious mental illness, I can say pretty confidently that you’re a wreck of a human being. You can agree with that, right? I don’t mean that in any way that should hurt or offend you. We’re fucked up, but it’s cool – ‘cause we can get better. And when we do, it’s really awesome. For you, it’ll be especially awesome. Mental illness is all that stands between you and an awesome, happy, positive, productive life. For yourself and for those that will be lucky enough to have you in their lives. You’re a smart kid; you can do a lot of good. You can help a lot of people. But most importantly, you can help yourself. Trust me, it’s gonna be rad as fuck.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that it feels pretty rad to live like a fuck-up. Just yesterday, I was thinking about all the bullshit schemes we used to pull to get by. There’s something tragically romantic about living in a hole. About stealing allergy medicine to exchange for “groceries” (I don’t think sour patch kids, lemonheads, and brownies technically count as groceries). About bouncing around from city to city. Running from drug dealers. Running from police. But along with the thrill of all that shit, you know as well as I do, that it comes with a lot of awful, negative, miserable, crippling, nightmarish days and nights. Notice that I said that it “feels” rad to be a fuck-up. It’s not really. It’s a fucking bummer. Think back to those days before we went to St. Louis. Sitting in that little box of an “apartment.” Puddles of shit, piss, and toilet water covering the floor. Soaking into our bags, our laundry – soaking into everything. Us not having the energy to go outside for anything. Not even having access to a working toilet or a vehicle to even get to a working toilet. The stomach pain. The debilitating fatigue. The sweating, the chills, and the body aches. You on the bed and me on the couch. Too uncomfortable to even lay beside another human being. The little victories that made us feel like winners (getting away from the cops, getting drugs) these things were not worth the misery that came with them.
I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but I still don’t fully subscribe to everything in the AA or NA texts. I don’t think for a second that I’m powerless over any and every mind or mood-altering substance. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I don’t fuck with any of them anyway. Because it’s not worth the risk. Proving that I can exercise control over some substance is not worth the risk of losing control to any of them. I could take a Xanax and it wouldn’t lead me down some shitty path. Maybe. But here’s the thing: it’s not even totally about it “not being worth the risk.” You know what the bigger piece is? What really motivates me to not drink alcohol, eat some pill, or (!!) shoot heroin? The fact that – not doing those things – is fucking awesome! For real. I had no idea how great it feels to be alive. To actually experience life. The good and the bad. ‘Cause when you choose to live (like that) the good is even better and the bad stops being all that bad. Sure, I still get bummed out sometimes, but it’s nothing compared to the way it used to be and I can usually spot the silver lining in it almost immediately. But I don’t really wanna dwell on this. You’ve heard all of the “now that I’m off drugs, life is amazing!” shit a million times. It’s true, but it’s nothing new and it’s nothing that’s gonna be of any value to you until you figure it out and see it for yourself.
What is gonna help you? I don’t know. You’ve been in a lot of really awful situations. You’ve experienced some pretty terrible things. You’ve felt a lot of serious pain. A lot of severe emotional pain (which is the worst kind of pain). I don’t care what anyone says – the feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, and fear that I’ve felt hurt just as badly – if not more than – anything else that anyone else in the world has ever experienced. And I’m pretty sure that the same is true of you. My point is just that I don’t think you really need to go out and “hit bottom.” “Bottom” is a different place for everyone, but we’ve both experienced what would have been bottoms for plenty of other people. What I guess I would call my bottom happened while I was already in rehab, almost four months after my clean date. It didn’t have anything to do with drugs. It was over a girl. Or it was triggered by a girl anyway. I’m not saying this to upset you and you shouldn’t be upset by it; it’s just reality. I’m codependent. I get attached to people. Sometimes it involves real feelings, sometimes it’s just a result of a compulsive need to feel validated by attention or affection from some girl. That’s been a huge part of my “illness” and I think it’s been a huge part of yours too. Of course I care about you (or I wouldn’t be writing this letter) but let’s be honest – a big part of why we got together was just unhealthy, codependent bullshit. We started talking about running away together five or ten minutes into our first conversation. We didn’t know anything about one another. So while real feelings may have developed later, it was definitely all nonsense at the start. And if we’re being totally honest, we were so fucked up on chemicals for most of the time that we were together that any feelings we had were, more likely than not, (in essence) little more than a survivor’s bond (the same kind of bond any two people share after experiencing some tragedy, trial, or dilemma together). We’re not soul mates, we were just dedicated to convincing one another that we were worth loving. I wanted to make you love me so that I could believe that I was worth loving and you wanted to make me love you so that you could believe the same about yourself. That’s what’s up. I’m sorry if that’s hard to hear, but it’s not by accident that I’m never without a girlfriend and you’re never without a boyfriend. Somewhere along the way, we both grew into needy little brats with little to no self-esteem but enough ego and arrogance to hide that fact from most of the world. But I’m getting off track.
So December of last year, I hit bottom in my room (in rehab). I had been flirting with this girl that had arrived sometime after me and though we weren’t explicitly acknowledging it, we were moving into dangerous territory (more than friendship). On this particular night, she did something that hurt my feelings, I retaliated by doing something to hurt her feelings, and she got so upset that she told me she never wanted to talk to me again. And I was so upset and so full of hate and fear that I wanted to kill myself. I hated myself so much for making the decision to say what I had to her and fucking up the friendship or relationship or whatever you want to call it. And I was terrified that I’d never be able to “get it right” and actually live and maintain some degree of happiness or self-esteem – that I was going to be miserable forever. I made a half-hearted attempt to kill myself that night but that’s not really important. Nobody found out about it until I was ready to disclose it. I only mention it so you understand just how spectacularly wrecked and pathetic I felt. But the next morning I decided that I had had enough. I was constantly upset about different little things with this girl (or [insert girl’s name here] over the course of the last ten to twenty years) and I wasn’t talking to anybody about it because I was afraid they’d cut us off from one another and (basically) because I was embarrassed to admit that I had these adolescent feelings for this random girl – so I wasn’t getting any better and my treatment was pretty much a waste of time. I was still improving, but by holding back in this one area, I was keeping myself from getting all of the help that I’d really need if I was ever going to “recover” in any sense. I came clean in group – I tattled on myself for all the inappropriate stuff going on between this girl and I, and I talked about how much it had been fucking with my head and how unhappy I had been as a result. She wasn’t in group that day though. She was about to coin-out so she had scaled back and was out on pass with her parents for a couple of days. When she got back the next afternoon, we had a meeting together with my counselor (who was also her counselor). She denied that there had ever been anything going on at all. It wasn’t until two weeks later that she told her counselor the truth. She had already coined-out though so they were only meeting once a week. She stopped showing up to her appointments the following week. And – today – she’s still out there, shooting up and fucking up her life.
Back to that day though – I had had high hopes for the meeting with our counselor. I thought she’d be caught off-guard initially, but come to terms with it and we’d be able to move forward and actually be honest with the treatment team about our feelings and be able to sort through them and start to get healthy. When she denied everything and told the counselor that I was delusional and making it all up, I got pretty depressed again. A few hours later, in my room, I don’t even remember what I was doing, but I was thinking about myself, trying to figure out what I was about – who I was, what kind of a person I was. Something clicked in my head and I decided that I was whatever I wanted to be. People always told me I was a good person, but I suspected that there was a pretty good chance that I was actually a rotten, evil, little shit that just happened to talk a good game and make people think otherwise. Even if I did good things, that was probably bullshit too. I mean, if I still had evil shit going on in my head, then that just meant I was an evil person who behaved well, right? No, not really. We’re all fucked up. We all have disgusting thoughts. What matters is what we choose to do with them. I grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and started writing. I wrote out a bunch of affirmations (something on my treatment plan that I had been told to do a million times, but wouldn’t – not in any serious way anyway). I wasn’t doing it with any thought for my treatment plan, I was just writing about the kind of person that I wanted to be, but writing in the present tense because I had decided that the moment that I wanted to be that kind of person, then that was the moment that I could be, and was. This was that moment.
After that, something was just different. Immediately, for example, I finally called the guy that I had asked to be my sponsor for the first time. Made plans to start step work (and then actually followed through with those plans). I also started doing the things that he had told me I should be doing every day. And I asked him what else I should be doing – and then I did them. I did a lot of stuff I hadn’t done before, but – maybe most importantly – I got honest. Thoroughly honest. In a way I had never been before. Nothing was off-limits, I talked about everything, no matter how uncomfortable it was for me. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t 100% perfect from that moment forward, but I consistently made an effort to be. If I did something wrong, I admitted it. And I still did plenty of stupid shit. On the same day I did my seventh step, I had made plans to meet up with a different girl that I had met at a meeting. I realized that I couldn’t really ask my higher power to remove my defects in character – to help me be honest – if I was actively making plans to sneak out to meet up with a girl. So I called her up and I cancelled. And I told her why I was cancelling. Can you imagine how much of a fucking geek I felt like in that moment? But it also felt good. It was the right thing to do. Plus, I got to brag to my counselor later about what a fucking champion of recovery I had been. (Apparently, pride wasn’t a defect in character…)
I’m getting away from the point of all of this maybe. I’m not trying to make this storytime. Here’s what fucking helped me: (1) the (aforementioned) realization that I was whatever kind of a person that I wanted to be, so long as I behaved in ways that such a person would behave; (2) deciding that whether or not I believe in a higher power and whether or not I believe that everything ultimately works out for the best, I’m going to fucking live like I do (I’m constantly telling people shit will work out for the best – do I believe it? I don’t know, but they’re gonna work out however they’re gonna work out, so we might as well just call it “the best” (really it’s “the only” but… um, whatever… you follow me, right?)); and (3) recognition of the fact that feelings are temporary phenomena that come and go, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly – but always at a pace consistent with my own attitude toward them. I’ll expand on that a little… you’ve probably heard this shit before too: the whole “be a witness to your feelings” concept. Like, “witness your feelings, rather than become them.” You know: “I’m not miserable, I only feel miserable.” These days, when I start to get upset, once I pick up on it, I take a look at it. Like, “Okay, I’m feeling upset and it’s because of A, B, and C. I can either dwell on it, put on my fucking grumpy face, withdraw from everyone, and revel in my unhappiness as the grand champion of depression and the king of self-loathing OR I can decide that it feels much better to not be upset and take a look at what I can do to deal with A, B, and C and what I can do to stop D, E, and F from ever happening and causing me to feel this way in the future. (Not getting “romantically” involved with girls in early recovery, for example, was a pretty good start; keeping in touch with my sponsor, doing everything my counselor tells me to do, and telling the truth were good follow-ups (for me) as well). I also recognized what kinds of things help me get through bad feelings until they pass. That’s one way that painting has been really important to me.
Backtrack for just one second. I know what the one thing that helped me the most was – or at least made the biggest difference in my recovery and got me really moving in the right direction. It was the willingness to do things that I didn’t want to do. Someone would tell me to do something and I’d do it. I didn’t think about it, I just did it. You and me are not people that like to do what they’re told. Fuck it. You can go back to making your own decisions some time later on down the line. For now, just do whatever the fuck you’re told. Trust me on this one. You will be so much happier. And do shit with sincerity. Don’t do anything half-assed. Really do it. Anything you do, do it for real. 100%.
I don’t know, kid. This shit’s the easiest shit in the world and it’s also the trickiest. If I could boil it down to just one thing, it’d be a question. “What would Jesus do?” is not that question, but it’s not totally off the mark. If I’m struggling with something, generally or even in a moment, I ask myself, “What’s the loving thing to do here?” By which I mean, how can I demonstrate love for myself, as well as love for others, with my actions? Neither is more important than the other. It’s a careful balancing act. Real love doesn’t ever require you to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own needs. (I mean that in a narrow sense though, when I say “needs,” I mean needs – not wants or wishes or whatever else). Sometimes it’s relatively easy to figure out what I should do and sometimes it’s even relatively easy to follow through and do it. Other times, not so much. Last week, I was in a pretty dangerous interaction (emotions running high) and I asked myself what would the loving thing to do right now be. And I didn’t know. I actually had to stop, tell the person to give me a minute, and I sat there like an idiot, in silence, for maybe two or three minutes, going through all of the options in my head playing each one out and trying to determine what my best move might be. As this person stared at me, waiting. So I definitely looked like a fucking dolt, but – in the end – by taking that time, not reacting emotionally (as was my first impulse), recognizing my priority (being a good, loving human being), and playing out the different tapes to the end and really considering the impact that each potential action was likely to have… I saved myself from a situation that – in the past – would have either put me in the throes of a suicidal depression or had me on my way to go cop some heroin. So… yeah, it’s a neat trick when I can manage to pull it off.
I didn’t bother to edit this letter at all (after I wrote it or even while was writing it) because I figured the worst case scenario was that I’d come across as a rambling lunatic, which I’m pretty okay with. Especially since it’d also result in a longer letter for you to read. And who doesn’t like to get long letters in rehab? And shit – how’s that for some positive from the negative? Silver linings, kid. Bright sides. It all works out in the end. But recap: the way I see it, you can (A) keep fucking up (A.1) until you get better or (A.2) until you die or (B) just fucking get better already. Either way, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be and it’s gonna be fine. Some outcomes are more desirable than others, but they’ve all got good in ‘em and the world’s gonna keep spinning as it should regardless. If you die, there will be some good that comes from it. Personally though, my favorite outcome would be for you to just get better (and get better now). Faith, no faith, whatever – it’s cool when seemingly bad shit happens that I’m able to spot the good that results, but it’s even cooler when things happen that just make me smile.
I’m gonna burn you a CD, but I’m gonna print and mail this letter out right now. Just in case I procrastinate on it. I don’t want you to not get this ‘til later just ‘cause I’m taking too long to put some songs on a disc. So – obviously – I haven’t done it yet, but it’ll probably be about half songs that I think are inspiring/cool/helpful/positive and about half songs that we used to listen to during our little five-month terror spree. That’s the plan anyway. Either way, you know it’s gonna have “Your Heart is a Muscle” on it.
Be well, kid.
For what it’s worth, this letter was never read. Both times that it was mailed, she left treatment before getting it.
1. The main caption in this painting is stolen from the song, “Good Morning, Sunshine” by The Steinways. All of the smaller (printed) captions are lyrics from songs as well. The bands responsible are Dear Landlord, Shorebirds, The Credentials, Sloane Peterson, and Ramshackle Glory. I don’t usually use other people’s text in my art, but – in this relationship – these lyrics are from some of what we’d have called “our songs.”
2. Even with fake names, some people will still be able to identify themselves (or people that they know) in a lot of what I’m posting here. Rather than change as many details as possible in an attempt to cover up identities (because I don’t think I could really be successful at that anyway) I’ll just point out that nothing you read on this website is absolute truth. It’s my truth, but my experiences (like everyone’s) are colored by my own perception, my own attitudes, and my own [whatever]. I’m not out to misrepresent anyone (or anything) but at the same time – if you read something and are offended by it… I’m sorry you feel that way, but – whatever I’ve written that upset you – I stand by it.
has borderline personality disorder and a heroin problem. In 2012, he got clean, discovered art, and traveled the country, painting and writing. Three years later, he went back to heroin and quit painting. He's currently hard at work trying to get clean or kill himself (depending on the day).