This is a story of me fighting like hell NOT to feel my emotions and how I began learning to work through my “shit.”

It’s the morning of my 18th birthday. The day I planned to throw my life away.

I wake up, and while the rest of the boys go off to breakfast before starting school and therapy, I stay back and start packing all of my things into a huge black trash bag. 

I am now legally an adult and I’m quitting rehab. I’m consciously going back to a life of addiction. I have already been to another treatment program, I’m 3 months into this one, and I’m fucking done.

Before going on let me give you some context.

Despite having quite a bit of suicidal ideation before going to rehab when I was 17, my toughest years were when I got sober. 

Once I got to my residential treatment center, with the drugs gone, I became even more anxious, and I could finally FEEL the depression that was driving a lot of my drug use and other decisions.

Over the years I also became ashamed of myself. 

I was a thief, an addict, a cheater and a liar to name a few. I felt at times that I literally couldn’t live with myself. I couldn’t bear the torment of thoughts and emotions in my head.

When I got to this treatment center I “played ball” to a certain degree. I went through the motions of what the therapists were asking of me to a. make them think I was doing a good job at recovery and b. to fit in with the rest of the group. 

That changed pretty quickly.

I was so afraid to really feel my own emotions. I was so afraid for other kids to see the real me. 

The devious, selfish, insecure, angry, ashamed, trying to pretend like I’ve got it figured out but completely helpless, DESPERATE me.

So I pulled the ultimate trump card and completely shut down. (can I be cancelled for saying “trump” card? oops)

For 2 straight months I sat in that treatment center and did NOTHING.

I refused to do individual, group or family therapy. I refused to do any of my therapeutic exercises. I refused to do school work.

My 18th birthday was coming up, and I planned to wait it out and leave.

I devised a master plan. I wrote this plan in my journal over and over as a self-soothing mechanism. A distraction from the feelings that were boiling just under the surface.

Here was my master plan that I must have rewritten a dozen times and replayed in my head 50x:

  1. Turn 18 and pack up my shit.
  2. Walk down to the 7-Eleven and steal 2 x 40z beers. Specifically 2. This part is essential.
  3. Good and drunk, ask someone where a pawn shop is
  4. Pawn my iPod and pair of Ray Ban glasses hoping it’s enough to afford a greyhound bus ticket to Louisiana.
  5. Walk to greyhound station
  6. Go back to Louisiana, stay with an old drug buddy.
  7. Start selling oxy contin

Simple and brilliant enough.

So back to that day. My 18th birthday. July 14, 2008.

Before today, I felt like I was in shackles energetically. I couldn’t leave here if I tried. Today the handcuffs are off. My life feels more like my own. I feel excited. Resolute. After packing my things I am led to my therapist Jason’s office.

I walk in, he looks at me, and I sit down.

He tells me happy birthday in a bit of a somber way because he knows what this day means. 

Looking at him, I thank him, and I feel a surge of emotion rise. It’s fear, shame, disgust with myself. I stuff it down – something I’ve become expert at.

He says, “So what are you going to do?”

I say, “I have no idea.”

And with that, I explode. All of my emotions flow through my body and out of me in sobs.

I stay in there for hours talking about whatever I have no idea. 

Finally I resolve to leave.

Before leaving I ask Jason if I can use his phone to call my mom to let her know I’m leaving.

I call her, starting to cry again already.

She had been expecting me, and when she picks up it’s obvious she’s shaken up or crying. 

She answers, “Hello?”

I say, “Hey Mom, it’s me.”

I say, “Mom, I’m in Jason’s office, and I’m about to leave. I just wanted to let you know before I go.”

She starts pleading with me, “Please don’t do this to me. I feel like I’m losing my son today.” She says some more things, but when she says that first statement something inside of me breaks. 

“Don’t do this to me.” To me. Please don’t do this to me. Not us (with my dad) but to ME. 

My mother. The person that brought me into this world, that breastfed me, that has literally given me life – was asking me not to do this thing to her.

In that statement she was asking me to stay and not succumb to my addiction. To hang on.

I lose it. I cried uncontrollably for a couple of minutes. 

When I got it together I actually made the decision to stay. 

At first I did it for her and my dad. Over time I started to do it for myself.

I am confident if I would have walked out that day I would have ended up in prison or killed myself or someone else.

Going through this process with my family as well as the other boys in treatment allowed me to embrace it. It allowed me to face my demons.

Learning to embrace and work with my own pain and grief has been the most important work of my life. 

I believe that we are conditioned to run from it and to only seek out pleasant emotions. What I think I’m learning about myself and other humans is that that is not natural. As humans we experience a wider range of emotions. 

They are neither good nor bad, and they are all sacred. They are all here to teach us something.

One of my friend’s mom’s, Gigi Sage, is an OG life coach. She said to me one day that she appreciates working with her European clients more than Americans because of their appreciation of the full spectrum of human experience. 

She noticed that people in America place happiness as the highest and only ideal vs just experiencing reality as it is.

I shared this story with you as a way to connect with you. In this YouTube video, Jordan Hall, says something to the effect that experiencing grief allows for you to connect with other humans in a different way than if you have never experienced it.

Kind of like if I’ve gone to Italy and had a great time, and you’ve also gone to Italy and had a great time. If I’ve never been, we won’t relate over that.

I also share it to show you just how hard I fought feeling my pain. 

I’ve been to some dark places, and I’m sure you have to. Writing about this experience was like an amazing solo therapy session. A couple of weeks ago I sent you some questions related to grief like “what are you not allowing yourself to grieve?” 

Identifying things that have been long buried and writing them out in detail can be a very powerful experience. 

Over the past year especially, I’ve been trying to reconnect to some of this grief. Rather than running from it or wallowing in it, I’ve been trying to experience it more directly. When I’ve dropped the label of “this is bad” or “I shouldn’t be feeling this” it’s allowed me to really embrace these challenging emotions and experiences.

Instead, at my best I tell myself that I SHOULD be feeling this. Because I am. I’m pretty shitty at this, but I’m working on it. This process has felt so healing to me.

It makes me more comfortable and safe in my own skin and it helps me connect more deeply with other people.

A metaphor that feels helpful here is that buffalos (or maybe it’s bison) will run into the eye of a storm to get through it faster. They run head on into it.

How badass is that?