It was now five months later, and school’s summer break was coming to an end. In an attempt to touch base with my students I had sent them a welcome back email:
Hello Squad Members,
As a new school year quickly approaches, I can only hope that you are all enjoying your summer break. While it certainly must be different with everything going on, have faith that the memories of this time will unite us in the future. I do not say this to simply sound cheerful, I say it from personal experience. History has shown us over and over that difficult times bring people together in ways that would not have happened otherwise. Whether or not this brings you any comfort understand that you are not alone in your impatience for better days.
Our struggles are real. In saying that, please know that I will never be a person to water-down the pain of what might be a difficult time for you. But believe me when I tell you that our minds are stronger than you could possibly imagine. When events force us as humans to put them together the results are nothing short of magical. With that said, I have to smile in wonder of what magic is in store for all of us?
Recognizing that the year ahead is going to be rather unusual, I wanted to take a moment to send you this email. Most of you met me last year before the shutdown (Can you believe it’s been since March!), but for those who may not know me, my name is Jose Julian, and I will be your Emotional Intelligence teacher.
This is a class I am very excited to teach. In my opinion there is no more relevant time to try and understand how our emotions impact our perception of reality than right now. But of course, I get paid to be excited about this and I understand that I am going to have to work for your attention: This is a challenge I happily accept.
Putting the world’s problems aside, as people in recovery we have no choice but to accept the fact that both certain and unknown obstacles lie ahead of us. We know that there are destined to be times we get tired of fighting, and with them, times that we feel weak. We will encounter moments that will make us feel like giving up. In preparing for this inevitability, let us today celebrate knowing that it will be during these times we get to search for the inner strength that makes us such special and unique people.
Please excuse this impromptu, ‘Sober-Dorky-Dad/Teacher Pep Talk’.
I can’t help myself sometimes: Which now brings me to the point of this letter. In an attempt to break the ice, I thought you might enjoy learning a little bit more about what has made me…Me.
Attached is an article that was recently published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. I wrote it for the paper hoping to get some public support for our school and its program. I hope you like it and I can’t wait to see you all!
—With Love Always, Your Teacher, Mr. J
“A Teacher IN Recovery”
Most people have never heard of a “Recovery High School.” To change this let me tell you about how I became a teacher at one.
To do that, I must bring you back to May 27th, 2016. At 3 a.m. on that morning I stood outside watching a fire engulf our family’s home. One hour earlier I was sitting alone on the back porch having a cigarette; a bad habit that I would partake in when I battled insomnia. The fire that I watched burn, the fire that would leave my family homeless, this fire, was my fault.
Guilt, anger, shame, fear, hopelessness—all the emotions I was already trying to cope with in my attempt to get sober, came to a head that morning. As bad as I felt that day, looking back now, it was just like any other day for ‘someone like me.’
The feeling that your life is over is just way too common amongst those that struggle. When I close my eyes today, I can vividly recall being huddled under that fire-lit sky, believing that at thirty-three years old I would forever be defined by my struggles. The seemingly endless failed attempts to put my life back together tormented me, and at that moment my dream of achieving some sense of redemption—just like my house, went up in flames.
How did my life end up this way?
Back in my glory days, I was ‘that kid.’ An All-star athlete, honor roll student, class treasurer, homecoming king. This is not to brag. In fact, the truth is I am prouder today of surviving my failures than I am reminiscing over these past accolades. The point I’m trying to make here is that addiction and mental illness can affect anyone. I am living proof of this.
Before I go on, let me make one thing perfectly clear: People with addictive tendencies or emotional instability can struggle with any type of substance: from alcohol and weed, to heroin, cocaine, and everything in between.
Perhaps some among us might even see that addiction does not end or begin with just substances. Because of this fact, the substances I used is irrelevant (though I’m sure you are dying to know).
As I write this, I am thirty-seven years old. I have lost more than I could ever explain due to my substance use. I have slept days, weeks, months away battling depression. I have hated myself. I have spent years regretting bad decisions. I have punished myself more than anyone else could ever wish to punish me because of the personal anguish introduced by life naturally: I have been a failure, a loser, an addict.
My struggles and the destruction I caused are difficult to overlook. Too often I let myself forget that in my time on this planet I have also done some very good things. While it may seem that I am eager to give myself this little pat on the back, the thought of ‘my good deeds’ was never close to enough to grant myself forgiveness.
Getting healthy for me meant reinventing myself. I needed to find my purpose. To accomplish this, I needed a fresh start. A nice idea but a very tough thing to do when you carry so much baggage.
But then I found ‘Locke Recovery High School’ in Worcester, Massachusetts—Or maybe the school found me?
In ‘The Program’ (that’s AA and NA for those of you trying to learn) I heard people say; “Everything happens for a reason.” Could this really be true—Did I have to struggle myself to help understand how to be a useful asset to these children?
This has yet to be determined, but what I can tell you is at this school I am surrounded by people that respect me for what I have been through and support me with things I am continually trying to overcome. They appreciate my struggle and try to learn from my experiences. Here I do not need to hide things that have made me who I am. I can honestly say they love me just the way I am.
This year I will be suggesting to my students that they write editorials so that people can learn what goes on at this school. However, I anticipate they will be understandably hesitant when I present this idea of mine. Knowing this left me in a dilemma.
As any parent or teacher knows it is hard to make a child go out on a limb and do something uncomfortable. Most of the time we as the adults must show them first by doing that uncomfortable things ourselves. So, I had to ask myself, do I put myself out there?
I am not a fool. The ‘stigma’ does still exist. Some people reading this will judge and ridicule me for my candidness. Some may even call me delusional for thinking that these children are so important to society as a whole.
After much internal debate I decided that it was worth the risk.
I have seen first-hand that these young minds are determined to live a life where substances do not derail their dreams. Lives that are focused on making the world a better place—for them, their families, and everyone’s’ future. We need them to succeed. If thinking this makes me crazy, then so be it.
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“Come take my hand…”
Not Afraid by Eminem