Today I went to a drug treatment center and stood in front of a room of teenagers and bared my soul hoping that they would make the choices to avoid my pain, but find my enthusiasm and joy. A friend from high school who is now a drug counselor invited me. When I left high school I thought I’d never see her again, but in this ultra-connected world of social media you can never forget who you may meet again. From a far distance I’m sure I’ve made the last few months of my life look easy… but every step has been crazy and hard and scary because I’m not hiding – I’m willing to show my vulnerability – I’m searching for realness – as I rebuild my life from nothing…
When I got home from my journey into the abyss, I didn’t have an identity… I mean, I knew who I was, I knew what I had accomplished, but I had to start all over.
It took me two weeks to finally put up my facebook page. The minute it went up, my computer and phone started going crazy with all types of colored lights and noises that I didn’t understand. It was weird being thirty years old and never having a facebook page or a smart phone before. I had heard facebook would put me in touch with people, but I didn’t know that an army of memories from my past would suddenly march into my mind at once. One minute I had my family. The next minute I was suddenly staring at pictures and reading the thoughts of people I’d forgotten about since elementary school. As I looked at this portal into my past I realized who I was going to connect with was going to greatly influence who I was going to become in my future. See, philosophically speaking, networking is a more complicated issue than it seems. Years ago, a Puerto Rican roommate of mine, always told me, “Si usted quiere saber quien es usted, mire sus amigos… If you want to know who you are, look at your friends.”
So as this deluge of old names poured out of facebook into my life, I looked into this new abyss and asked myself, how am I going to create my new identity among all these people? Should I go backward in time with the people I knew and become who I was? Should I limit my friends to only new people? Or should I pick the people who will best help and encourage me to reach my life purpose? In the myriad of all these torn memories, I saw the profile of Kelly Mettayer Flattum pop up. She was a friend of mine from Turtle Lake Elementary School, and High School, and I saw that she was a drug counselor now. I realized that if I want to become something new, I had to push myself to find new opportunities to do new things. I want to help – I like living a great adventure seeking God – so I reached out to her and just said if she needed a speaker to share an unbelievable story with her kids, I’d love to help. Today we made it happen.
As I looked around the circle of faces before I began to speak, I felt comfortable, at home with these kids who are intelligent and creative, but sort of lost in our society. I was with souls who had no pretensions, and who were willing to look at life from alternative viewpoints. It gave me a liberating peer group to experience life with. These kids stopped caring about being normal a long time ago because of the situations which brought them to treatment, and this openness to being themselves provided a fearlessness in their attitudes that a normal person doesn’t have. I knew if they could just turn their fearlessness around to do something positive with their lives, each of them could do magnificent things. I told my story, and between the lines, I tried to tell them that.
As I spoke, it was clear that these kids never intended to end up in this much trouble. They’re so young. One bad decision led to the next, and the next, and all of a sudden they’re caught in a mess and facing consequences they don’t understand. I saw so much of me in them, when I was shattered. But I’m proud of how I turned out, and I want them to find that same empowered attitude. I spoke for forty minutes and had all their attention. I emphasized that if they could just remove the barriers holding them back, their talent could explode into the world and do some really great things.
Society calls kids like this, problem kids. But I look at them and if they just fix a few of their flaws, that type of personality also has a different name: Leaders. A leader is just a person who overcomes a challenge, and helps others overcome theirs. Anytime I see a kid that’s how I like to see them – as a potential leader. If they can just get their uniqueness and energy pointed toward a positive goal, they can make life a more beautiful and spectacular place for us all. For these kids, quitting drugs is just one necessary step toward that goal.
On my way out I gave Kelly a hug and promised her I’d come in every few months and meet with her group. I won’t lie…. It’s a scary thing to walk into a room and bare my soul, and teach the lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes…. but at the same time it’s empowering to know that I can help someone accomplish great things if I just open up and share my story. I’m at peace. I’m no different than any other rebel soul out there, looking for realness, and the journey feels simply amazing.