It is an odd proposal. Things are often not what they seem, but at the same time may be more than they appear. History tends to repeat itself in such a way that the mistakes of the past at given an opportunity to rectify themselves.
Don't be mistaken, however, for those opportunities are not repeats of a television show you've already seen and cued up because you want to revisit it. These opportunities are as different as they are the same.
I forgave myself some time ago for what I consider my life's biggest mistake. It was a misjudgment really. And when I say that people often say "You mean your suicide?" No, that was not a mistake. Was it giving up the life I had in Orlando to pursue an old, spiritually dead queen that I mistook for sometimes shiny and brilliant? No, that was not a mistake. These things were necessary to give me direction on the road ahead. My biggest mistake was letting someone down in such a way that it crushed my soul when she turned to me, desperately in need of help, pregnant with the child of a man she slept with just to make me jealous, and told me I was "too late." She had been my secret acolyte, a woman so desperately in love with me and looking to me for guidance, who sacrificed herself to save me from myself more than once. She only wanted my time and my counsel, but I was too fixated on other things to notice she was even really there.
"Find what was lost and begin again."
Opportunities are strange things, often mistaken for something other than what they are because we tend to read too much into them.
Life happens. It moves quickly just as often as it moves slowly. Those quiet evenings of contemplation, of meditation on things that keep our hearts from leaping into the void, are still part of collection of fast moving parts that surround us. There are things out of our control. There are things we can influence, that we can have a say in, and that we can actively participate in. Frustration most often comes when we overestimate our own power to bring about change.
My return to Orlando fixated on something that was not broken. Finding Tina again so I could thank her for how our encounters changed my life. So many times I heard in my head her final thank you speech for helping her make it through difficult times. And that inspired me to begin working with people in need of help, guidance, and a kind word. It was an empty quest, as I later realized she probably assumes all this is true. Not being the most self-assured woman in the world I am all but certain she figured she was simply one of many I met on my travels. And she was right. I underestimated my impact on the lives of others simply through my own blind ignorance. She was the target. She was the woman from the dreams who called me to her. She was the one meant to teach me the lesson of what I am capable of. What it did, or did not, do for her was merely part of that lesson.
Flash forward to 2015. I returned to Orlando believing I needed to pursue her and express my gratitude, but she was nowhere to be found. Perhaps she never existed. The place where she worked, the infamous Chili's that is my church was filled with unfamiliar faces and I found myself surrounded by ghosts of times long past. This was not the place. The time had passed. So how was I to "Find what was lost and begin again."
What is lost is generally something inside of us, whether it is faith, purpose, knowledge, wisdom, or something else. It usually isn't something external. What was lost was my faith and my drive, my belief in myself, and my sense that I was still capable of having an impact in the lives of others despite having survived serious complications from a chronic disease that left me mostly bedridden for almost a year. Could I still make my mark? Was I still the corpse full of hope? Was I still who I was? Had I learned something from my illness that would actually make me stronger.
Serious illness and coming close to death, which I am well acquainted with, are very valuable teachers. Coming close to death is like having someone shout in your ear "Get up you have work to do you lazy sod!" And when you do get back up you have a greater appreciation of health and the ability to do things you thought you might never do again.
And then they give you a gift. Blink and you might miss it, but the gifts appear.
I work with a lot of people younger than myself and some of my cultural references are lost on them. They think I'm quite daft at times, which I am, but not in a way that represents a threat to small children or stray livestock. Then one day I found a new employee behind the desk at work, a uniquely beautiful young woman with interesting hair and a less than ordinary look about her. She was young, not nearly old enough to understand my outdated cultural references and jokes, but she got every one of them and even offered clever retorts.
She was a joy to be around, a person who seemed to be a member of my tribe, as in the group of people who generally understand and accept you as you are, including all your general weirdnesses and quirks.
"This is my second job," she told me later. "I work two jobs to pay the bills."
"Where else do you work?"
"I'm a waitress at Chili's."
There are no destinations. Tina taught me that. There is only the journey, and you must be cautious of the mile markers on that journey. You have to read the signs and not read too much into them. In my life, this is a sign so blatant and flashing that I know it means someting important. I just don't quite know what it is yet.
We must learn from our mistakes or history repeats itself. My first mistake with Tina was believing she must be the great love of my life that I was destined to find, marry, and live happily ever after with. That was far from the reality. The second mistake was to focus all of my attention on her to try to determine what it was all about, which meant ignoring other people and events that were transpiring in my life. The third mistake was neglecting to tell her how much she had changed my life, taking me from a self-promoting ladies' man into someone who could use his powers of empathy to do more than just make women fall in love with me.
In my personal mythology the appearance of a woman at my workplace, who also works at Chili's, and who seems to understand and relate to everything I talk about, is perhaps the most significant event since the first appearance of Tina in real life after years of appearing in my dreams. It is one of those things I cannot write off as a weird coincidence. When I was guided back to Orlando for find what was lost and begin again, it makes a tremendous amount of sense.
The trick is not to screw it up. I screw up a lot of things.
There is magic in everything. It is all around us, should we choose to recognize it and not write it off as an anomaly. There are challenges we can greet with open arms, with guarded caution, or with attempted avoidance. These challenges present themselves with good reason. It has become common to reject the notion that everything happens for a reason, but without reason nothing happens.
There is an eventuality to understanding. When I came to Orlando in 1997 I thought it was to find a woman because she was the answer, but it was so she could give me the answer. And that answer did not come as a simple statement or easily understood explanation. It did not come as a riddle to be solved. I had to find her because she was the one who would show me that I could have a positive impact on the lives of other people. It would take me years to understand the answer because we want it to be simple. We want it to be clear, and easily understood. We want the answer to the question of life to be "42" but it is more complex than that.
When I took my life in 1994 it was because I had come to truly believe that my life had no meaning or purpose and that I was nothing but a burden to the people in my life. It was the punctuation mark at the end of a five year period of my life when I tried to force everything to be the way I thought it was supposed to be. I tried to change things I had no real power or influence over. I found fault in everything in life, in society, in civilization, and demanded that it change to something more like what I thought it should be. I shouted into the thunderstorm demanding that it stop raining.
What is most difficult to come to a realization about when it comes to life is that change only really happens one individual at a time. Once you come to that realization you now face the difficult concept of understanding that you are capable of creating change just by being in people's lives. That change can be positive or it can be negative. The real change comes from learning to actively listen to what people are saying and actively seeking to understand why they do the things they do, say the things they say, and act the way they act. And it is actually amazing what happens when you do this. You acquire the ability to help them change.
Find what was lost and begin again.
For years I worked with psychologically damaged teenagers. Now I work with recovering adult addicts. Do you know what happens when I meet my patients for the first time? When I have my first conversation with them and get to know them? Nine times out of ten they tell me they trust me and are glad to have met me. Not because I am a charming motherfucker, but for an entirely different reason.
They tell me they believe I am "one of them."
Then they ask me if I am in recovery and I always say, "All I can tell you is that I am in recovery from many things." I go on to tell them that everyone has a struggle, that everyone has something they are recovering from, and only the strong ones are able to admit they need help and are willing to seek out that help. The weak ones live their lives out in denial. And I tell them they are my heroes and that I believe in them. And I mean every damned word of it.
I am one of them. I have so many demons in me that I am fighting every day that I have become strong enough to get up three nights a week and work twelve hour shifts with some of the most wonderful and badly damaged people you could ever have the pleasure of meeting. I get up and do this because it means everything to me.
There was a lifelong alcoholic who is in his 60s and has never spoken a word to me other than grumbling a response to my greeting or asking for some simple favor like finding the television remote. I was never sure how to reach him and he was with us for over a month. I would try to engage him. I would tell him stories and he just tended to isolate himself and seemed like he was angry all the time. I felt like I'd failed this guy somehow but I didn't know what else to do. The other night he left after completing the program and approached me, with tears in his eyes, shook my hand and said, "You are a really special person, I am never going to forget you."
I did something, and that is the point. We don't always know what we do but we need to do it. I need to do it.
Heroin is a monster. It has got to be the scariest monster in the monster manual. What it does to people in inconceivable. It eats people. I only know second hand, but I have watched enough heroin addicts detox now that I know the power it has is awesome. It turns grown men and women into crying, desperate shadows trapped in the inner circles of Dante's Inferno. Trying to defeat that monster takes balls the size of Jupiter. It is not a path a coward is capable of taking. It is a path that requires a hero to travel.
When people try to quit heroin they turn into jelly. A recovering addict I am extremely proud to know explained it like this, "I'll walk a billion miles to get a fix before taking twelve steps to quit it." That is a bitch that owns you. You are it's slave. You have no power but it tricks you into thinking you do. If you want to see what a real life superhero looks like go find a recovering heroin addict and talk to him. Those men and women have the strenth of Hercules and the patience of the immortals, but every single one of them will tell you they are weak. Because they are. Because they sold themselves into slavery.
And admitting you are weak and becoming strong in the face of it is what makes a hero.
They go into battle every day and the battle never ends.
The other night I met a young man who is just beginning his heroic journey. He was in so much pain, his eyes filled with tears, as he told me he couldn't do it, that he was going to give up because it hurt too much to be without that demon inside of him. And I struggled to find the words to encourage him. I actually felt sad that I could not relate to his struggle as I've never been an addict. And then I remembered another young man who fought the same battle, a young man who was still in the program, who was doing very well, a man I had met the moment he came into our facility. This man had come to us with a long, scraggly beard, hair unwashed for weeks, and was barely conscious as I processed him into the program. He looked like someone you might see passed out on a park bench in the middle of the day with a little cup you might throw a quarter into because you felt bad for him. And he was that guy. That was where heroin had taken him.
This man has been in the program now for thirty days and he looks like a completely different person. He looks like someone a father would approve of his daughter dating. His mind is sharp, he is completely immersed in his treatment, and I tell him all the time that he is my hero for what he has accomplished.
And so I asked him last night if he would come and talk to the new guy because I felt the new warrior needed to hear it straight from someone who has been fighting the war and has been succeeding so well in recovery. And they met. And they talked for over an hour.
My new hero woke up early this morning and said he was ready to go. He didn't want to leave. He said, "I want to live. I'm ready."
I am in recovery from hopelessness. I am in recovery from self-hatred. I am in recovery from being convinced that nothing I did in life meant anything. I am in recovery from taking my own life because I was convinced I had no purpose.
And now I live one day at a time.
Do you know what I do every night before I go to work? Do you know what I do before I write a piece on this site? Do you know what I do before I talk to a friend or acquaintance or respond to their phone call?
I spend anywhere from several minutes to several days overcoming my demons. I have to convince myself that I will do the right thing, say the right thing, not fuck things up, not let people down, and I have to repeat to myself, "You matter. You're doing the right thing. Do it." Then I spend several minutes to several days convincing myself I wasn't an idiot for doing what I did, saying what I did, or writing what I did. I have to spend a lot of time every day convincing myself that I deserve to be alive, and nothing anyone says or does will change that, because these are the demons of a recovering suicide.
Yes. I am in recovery. I'll be fighting this battle forever. I am the weakest person I've ever met. And I am stronger than anything that tries to stop me or destroy me.