The first night I got here, someone stole one of the two phones meant for use by the approximately 40 men in this program, leaving one working phone and a line to use it so long that some people gave up on calling their families for the night. Experts say maturity and adult emotional development stops, or at least slows down greatly at the age a person starts using a substance to escape from reality. For many patients here who hail from small farming communities where there is little accountability, lots of freedom, and a low emphasis on education in their formative years, that age tends to be very young. Often these youth come from families where generational enabling is the status quo, and a kid experimenting with Dad’s beer is not seen as anything to worry about. Kids in that situation peak out in their substance issue in their mid teens and hit rock bottom in their late teens or very early twenties.
The phone incident was a minor, but telling real life example of stunted growth and the downward spiral perpetuated by the anti-social behavior that persists long into the addict’s adult life.
It’s easy to point to and intellectualize other people’s errant behavior while I’m here. It’s much more difficult to face myself and what I need to do to catch up to my own age in maturity. That may even include taking a hard look at whether or not I’m a good enough writer to actually be a writer for a living. I can imagine that when a man approaches a woman in a coffee shop and tells her he’s a writer, her first thought is probably, “oh, brother, what next? Is he about to tell me he’s “in a band,” too?” Sadly, being a writer or musician is often a euphemism for being unemployed. Society only seems to value the top 1-percent of all art with actual pay. So as I spend these cold winter days in the middle of nowhere reflecting on life, the question becomes: Do I continue to throw logic and reason to the wind and go all in on my creative talent, even if doing so leaves me sadly single and alone for the rest of my life, or do I go for the “Mr. Right” 9-5 life and lay my idealism to rest?
Here come the therapy cliches … “…take care of yourself first,” and “quit living to impress other people — it’s exhausting.” But we who are naturally a bit insecure with our abilities and true selves like to seek validation of our friends. We like people to tell us we’re good. I’m no exception to that, and publishing this blog from rehab is probably one of my character flaws exhibiting itself, crying for attention so that I may feel like I still have a chance at life. Yet it’s the one little thing I have in my life right now that makes me feel a little bit better than worthless. If I add to it the hope that my stories help someone make a change in their life before experiencing the utter Hell of losing everything, then I feel one more little notch above worthless. No one plans on this, and no one deserves it.
Each day away from purple valance of that last drink allows these tough life questions to rise to the surface. Could I be a writer and not succumb to the temptation that comes with the profession’s time and freedom? Is it possible to balance that with building a healthy family? Can I actually see myself getting up in the middle of the night to heat up a bottle of formula to that perfect 100 degrees and feed the baby so that she might sleep and perform well at her job? Learning to live a healthy, balanced life is one of the addict’s greatest challenges. We like to do thing in an all-or-nothing fashion, and resent those who suggest we tone down our hopes and dreams. But as we are reminded time and time again, achieving some sort of balance is critical to survival. Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and Heath Ledger, just to name a few, are examples of what happens when we place a creative career above all else, rather than tempering our ideals and working in measured increments.
I’d prefer not to be found in a hotel room. Most people don’t think of Robin Williams, Abraham Lincoln, and the musicians I mention above first as addicts. They are remembered for their unique contributions, for which they undoubtedly had to fight to ignore all those who tried to tell them to pursue something more reasonable.
Have I answered my own question? Perhaps. I am going to continue to listen to my heart and practice my craft, and pray that I may be blessed with material support that will enable me to realize my unique potential in this life.
Editor’s Note: The following post was handwritten by Kirk Klocke at Keystone Treatment Center in Canton, S.D. and transcribed, edited, and published by Cassie Rodenberg, an independent journalist in New York City who covers addiction, poverty, and other dark things happening in rough urban neighborhoods. Ms. Rodenberg publishes “The White Noise,” a Scientific American blog that focuses on the scientific, medical and social implications of addiction. Follow her: @cassierodenberg