When does an obsession to worrying turn into an anxiety disorder? – I wondered to myself while looking at the screen in front of me.
I was supposed to be teaching this class but found myself lost in thought thinking about everything that had been happening over the past two weeks. In front of me Pras was the only student attending our virtual class today. Our school had gone back to the remote learning model in response to a spike in virus cases (and in preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday- a super spreader). School districts all over the country were making this same decision- not just ours. No one I knew had come down with the virus; I had heard a lot were, but no one I knew of; “Yet…” I worried to myself, adding it to the list of things to think about…
“But, is she going to be okay?” Pras asked me for what seemed like the hundredth time.
Sympathetic, yet inwardly frustrated with having to answer this again, I responded, “We will know soon Pras. We have to be patient. You know I can’t talk about it…you know as much as I do at this point anyway.”
The volume on the television behind him was loud- and distracting- Was this intelligent boy really watching that? -I thought to myself.
Deciding to ask, I did, “Pras, are you watching The Kardashians?”
Glancing over his shoulder for a quick second, he looked back at me on his computer screen and responded unabashed, “Yes, Mr. J, do you have a problem with that?”
Chuckling, I responded, “I’m just surprised.”
“In a world so fake, these reality shows make me feel sane Mr. J.,” he said sounding like the smart kid I had come to know.
Recognizing that this was a good line I decided to tell him, “Wow, I like that Pras. Can I use that in my book some day?”
“Your book?” he asked.
This changed the topic of our discussion very conveniently…and I was grateful. We got distracted by sharing some of our dreams- successfully killing class time. Neither of us really had anything other than concern for our classmates on our mind and it was not fun pretending otherwise. He and I both enjoyed this short break from reality for the moment.
“Did you know that the Kardashian’s mother purposely leaked a sex video of her daughter and that’s what made them famous?”
This question/statement brought our conversation back to the television show that was on in the background.
Not believing him; or maybe not wanting to believe this, I said, “Alright…I’ll do some research on that Pras…How bout you do me a favor and change the channel though?”
Out of respect, he did what I asked. Behind him, CNN was now on. The caption on the bottom read, “Where is our stimulus?”
On screen the talking heads continued to poison the minds of their viewers with more and more one-sided discussions. Pras joined them as he began educating me…again….“Republicans didn’t want to win this election. That way they can blame us democrats for what happens next as a result of the virus. In four years, he’ll be back…..or maybe his daughter….”
I let him go on this rant, but truly was not listening to any of the fortune telling that was spewing from his mouth. Instead, I was mentally debating asking him the question I had been thinking about asking for a while. Approaching my breaking point, I decided to just do it (anything to shut him up!).
“Would you and Nel be interested in coming to my house for Thanksgiving next week?” I interrupted him to ask.
The three of us had become very close and knowing that neither of them had much family to speak of I figured it might be nice to ask them given everything that was going on.
Not giving me a read on how he felt about this offer, he said, “Let me talk to Nel and let you know, alright Mr. J?”
I really hope they come– I thought to myself.
Feeling anxious again I debated in my head making a stronger plea to Pras, but instead kept silent, not telling him what I wanted to say so badly…
“We all really need to be there for each other right now.”
Week 11- (11.20.20) – “The Box”
Stopping at the ULTRA MART in my hometown of Leominster, the cashier asked me what I was up to for the day. I told him I had to teach class. Which lead to a conversation about the school I taught at. Neither of us were in much of a rush that morning so I told him about the new job I had teaching at a “Recovery High School.”
Not knowing what that was, I quickly told him the purpose of the school and the type of kids that I worked with. I then went on to explain how meaningful the work was to me given my own personal struggle with substances in the past.
Just like most people I encountered in sobriety, this man was surprised to hear that I was ‘In Recovery.’
Of course, he then wanted to know about how it all started for me (why I used basically). To which, I told him about my battles with depression and feeling like a failure. About how life had beaten me up. How my mistakes and regrets mounted. How I used substances to escape the sad reality to which had become my life at the time.
Knowing full well that no one felt bad for me and the story I wove, I remember saying, “I don’t know if I was born an addict? I had dabbled with some things in the past that were socially acceptable when I was young, but later on…when life got tough…I remembered how good I felt when I used those things, so common sense tricked me into thinking it would help again- What can I say? … I was wrong.”
“But why would you do that? … Didn’t you know it would just make things worse?? … Why didn’t you just say no???”
My mind checked out after being plastered with these questions and I soon left the store that morning feeling frustrated.
With everything that was happening at school, hearing someone say this to me broke something inside me. I’m sure that this cashier-this new friend-did not mean to upset me; maybe it was not him, but just life; nevertheless, I was mad.
“Just Say No!” was outdated and annoying- it was not realistic and did not resonate with kids today.
It was about time someone re-wrote that script– I thought-Why not me?
That is when I went home and wrote this week’s story…I call it, “The Box.”
Imagine you are sixteen years old. You’re sitting at home by yourself watching television and mindlessly playing on your phone. Bored. A knock on the door gets your attention. You get up and open it. When you do, no one is there, but you look down and see a box.
On the box, a message is attached. You reach down and grab it:
“If you open this box, you will have three of the best years of your life. If you open this box, you are guaranteed to be the happiest you will ever be. If you open this box, your mind will awaken to new possibilities that you never could imagine otherwise. If you open this box, you will be rid of all P.A.I.N. that tortures you today.”
Reading, you become excited at the possibility. But you are skeptical. Below the ‘guarantees’ is a warning in black letters (a disclaimer):
“After your three years of happiness, there is a 30% chance that your life will be more miserable and emptier than you could ever imagine.”
Scared, you do not open the box. You are a wise young person and remember what your teachers told you: “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.”
With those words of wisdom floating in your brain, you put the box in the closet and forget about it. Life is too short to consider such nonsense. You have an amazing life ahead of you. Whatever is in that box could derail your plans for the future. You are the master of your own destiny. “F that box,” you say, “I don’t need it!”
Someone reading this could be young; maybe sixteen. Life may be miserable for them already. It is not hard to imagine. They may read the situation outlined above and dream about ripping that box open, not caring about the 30% chance of misery that ‘might’ await. Life sucks right now, what is there to lose?
Many others, maybe even the majority, would never open the box. They are content with life. They have found happiness. They don’t need a promise of things being better than they already are— There are plenty of people that feel this way today, aren’t there?
Then there is another group, the population who struggle over time. For these people, the ‘guarantee’ of happiness would torment them. While they may be strong at the beginning, the odds on the warning label eventually start to sound pretty good. At a moment of weakness, maybe they are tempted to peek inside that box.
So, what is in the box?
It’s unique for us all. But for me it is a magical three-year supply of ‘Percocet.’ (An opiate, and my ‘drug of choice;’ also known as medically pure heroine.)
When I was young, this drug was introduced to me rather innocently; simple wisdom teeth surgery. Then yet again once my twins were born and their mother had a C-section. It was medicine. What was the harm?
It made me feel AMAZING!!! It was the ultimate anti-depressant. It helped me focus, to dream. To be the best ME. It made me truly believe happiness was within my reach…
Later on in life, after a stock market crash, a collapse in the housing market, and a divorce, taking this medicine to feel better and more optimistic about the future felt like common sense. Little did I know that I was part of the 30% that struggled with addictive tendencies; always was, never realized it. For me, once I knew how to escape reality, there was no going back!
Do not feel bad for me. I made that choice. I dealt with it. I’m dealing with it still. The fact is, not everyone that uses substances struggle with addiction- it is true; do your research. But most everyone can feel better by using them-that is also true; sorry.
People always want to know how I stay sober-to share my experience, strength, and hope. Well, the truth is, I created a dream that is stronger than my desire to use. This is what is working for me, but we are all different. For any of you looking for words of wisdom, here are mine: You can have how I felt when I was using. Or, you can have what I have now. You cannot have both. The choice is yours.
But….Why did I do it in the first place? How could I have been so dumb?? Why didn’t I just say no???
Well….I was weak.
I felt like a failure. Life couldn’t have gotten any worse. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be better. I wanted to escape.
For whatever the reason, the temptation was just too great, so, I opened the box.
“F That Box!”
Week 11- Question for Reflection:
Do you have sympathy for ‘addicts’? Why or why not?