Finding the Way Out of Trauma and Substance Abuse
by James Howard
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
I stood at the sink filling the plastic cup with water as my mouth and tongue burned from the psychotropic medication. My throat burned and I swallowed quickly to try and find some relief. As an eight-year-old living with problems in my mind; this was a typical morning. The doctors in my small Florida hometown said I had some real issues going on in the psychological aspects of my mind. The chemistry and psychological aspects of my mind. They weren’t sure I would ever be better.
When I was three, I was in a severe car accident and that caused brain damage to a degree. I was very hyper and that caused me lots of problems, in school and elsewhere. I talked much and I was constantly moving. Doctors tried out different medicines and they settled for a long period on one psychotropic. I suffered from its many side-effects and I didn’t want to take it, but I was forced to by my parents. The diagnosis was hyperactivity with signs of schizophrenia. It was torture living in my mind as a young boy.
The old adage, “children can be cruel” was unleashed upon me with a fury. I have larger ears than normal and other children would thump them. This led to fighting many times. I hurt deep inside and the symptoms and causes of the pain of my mind was horrific. I used to stay secluded and yet my grades in school weren’t bad because I liked to read and study.
My middle school principal once told my parents, “That boy can be anything he wants to be for he is smart, but he also won’t live to be twenty-five because of his mental and social problems.” I did take solace in going to see the counselors as they seemed to be genuinely concerned about me. I found that they didn’t put me down or make fun of me and many times I didn’t want to leave the counseling sessions.
My mind was muddled, and I would see evil things in my room at night and that terrified me. When I told my parents about some of the things I had seen, they thought I was mad. That meant more medicine and I felt like I was going to die from the way it made me feel. These new medications made me want to sleep and I could barely function.
I tried playing sports and for a while I did excel at baseball, football and basketball. The weight of life broke my mind, and I kept thinking about the fact that it was said I was going to die before reaching twenty-five. I was basically a loner. I did have a few friends, but my seclusion was what I prized most of all. When I was alone I felt safer than being around people. And some events would soon take place to push me further along the path of mental instability. When I was around four years old, I was molested. I carried shame and guilt, believing that it must have been my fault that something like this would happen to me. Prior to my teenage years, a predator found me walking down the road. He offered me a ride and took me to the woods. He beat me, raped me, and did all sorts of evil things to me. I cried and that made him even more violent. He told me he would kill me, and I just knew that I wouldn’t make it out of the woods alive. I did live though, and he dropped me off near where I lived. I remember the horror even now as I write about that experience. Yet, today it doesn’t have the hold on me it did have for years and years. I remember I walked stooped over and felt as if my life was over because of this horrid experience.
It wasn’t long after that until I was introduced to marijuana and alcohol. I took to it avidly because for a while, I felt good and didn’t think about all my problems, and my trauma. I took more and more to drinking and landed up in juvenile detention centers. I fought and rebelled against all authority. After a time sent, I was sent to a juvenile half-way house. I got out of there wilder than ever, getting drunk and using drugs. My mental health issues were growing and now I had drugs and alcohol to compound the problems. That proved to be gas on an already steady fire.
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I shot dope with the needle; I was so desperate I once shot a medication that gelled in my veins. I drank beer and whiskey and took downers, and acid—I was a teenager out of control. I fought all the time and was sent to juvenile reformatories. One good thing did come out the reformatory was I got my high school diploma. So I was back on the streets and the court system made me go to mental health counseling. I didn’t want to go, but I went to stay out of jail. The medicines they gave me made me feel weird and I longed for the street drugs and the alcohol. Trouble hunted me, or should I say, I hunted trouble. I simmered liked a loose cannon.
I took to the streets and to drugs and alcohol. I chased girls and the crazy thing is; many girls liked the bad boy image and wanted to be around it. One day I was high and I cut this boy with a knife and ended up in prison. This is the life that I seemed to be destined to lead. I really wanted to kill myself, but I feared attempting this way out. I am thankful to God I didn’t do it.
I wandered in and out of relationships and married a couple of times, but they both wanted divorces. To be honest, as I know now, the poor ladies should have ran when they first saw me. I lacked commitment in marriage, and I ran wild and wide open. I look back at some of the things I did, and I tremble. I lived a daredevil lifestyle and should have died many times over.
I could go on and on about the life I lived and how a dual diagnosis drove me deeper into despair. I had gone to AA meetings, to counseling and other forms of help. One program dealt with spiritual issues, and I met Jesus one day by myself in my rented room. I have had a long, hard road in walking out trust in my life and that has brought me many problems. But, my life has slowly and gradually gotten better. It is far from where I want it to be, but it is much better…
I had to do some forgiving. My parents didn’t really have time for me they had their own thing going, my dad rejected me and never once came to a sporting event I participated in as a player. My mother beat me severely and quit only when she ran out of breath. My sister, who had none of the issues I did, worked her young life to make her own money. She escaped the things going on by working and being gone with her friends. I had to forgive my parents for not being there for me.
I had another issue that weighed heavy on me and I wanted to deal with the molester in ways I won’t discuss. I knew that being bitter and having hate for him would only hurt me and I wanted to let it all go. But I didn’t seem to be able to do so. Even though I had met Jesus I still drank vodka heavy. One night I was about to eat about ten years ago and I just rose within myself and said no more, I forgive him for what he did to me. Amazingly after that I didn’t desire anymore vodka and I am still sober, years later, having not touched a drop.
My life is much better, and I did live past twenty-five for, on my next birthday I turn sixty-one. I find the bible, church, prayer, and good friends to be my way to deal with things. I do, at times, like seclusion, and that’s okay. I started writing seriously a few years back and have been published in several magazines. I have written seven books and I have started another one. I did my ancestral search and found that my ancestors lived as famous musicians, poets, and artists. I found out learning music has many health benefits, so I obtained a recorder, keyboard, and soprano saxophone that I practice upon daily. I am partial to the sax though.
I will soon be going to juvenile detentions centers and teaching them about writing. It will be as a religious worker and I am excited that I may be able to give encouragement to those that are starting the road I walked many years ago. The next great poet, or novelist may be sitting in the juvenile detention center, just waiting to be found.