When I was 20 I had completely lost myself. I had become a person I didn’t recognize, didn’t respect, and didn’t want to be. Drugs and alcohol had completely consumed my life.
In short, I was killing myself, slowly.
It wasn’t always this way, and thankfully it isn’t that way now. Life, I’ve discovered, is truly a journey.
My journey began when I was little
I was raised in a upper middle white class family. My mom was a realtor in addition to caring for my older sister and I. My father was a civil rights attorney for the U.S. Justice Department.
I had a lot of opportunity growing up. I was in Boy Scouts. I took piano and guitar lessons. I participated in soccer and tae kwon do. My family took vacations together, and I regularly visited both sets of grandparents. And unlike many of my friends whose parents were or later got divorced, my parents were, and are, still together.
I had a lot of what other people wanted. And yet, something insidious grew inside me.
It was an unspoken thought; an idea. It was this –
As a man, I have to stand on my own two feet. I have to be able to handle anything and everything life throws my way, and I have to do it all on my own, without tears, without fear, and without emotion.
This singular thought, and my inability to live in such a way, led me to the depths of an utter, living, drunken hell on earth, and to me slowly killing myself, and on many occasions hoping that one day, I wouldn’t wake up.
The morning I wished I hadn’t woken up
I haven’t shared this with many outside of AA, and only just remembered it as I was writing. I wish to share it with you.
One evening I was feeling particularly low. The idea of drinking myself into oblivion and not waking up the next morning was of particular appeal.
I was 19-years-old and couldn’t buy my own alcohol. Instead, I walked to the 7-11 and purchased a bottle of NyQuil or something and a bottle of over the counter sleep medicine. I took a majority of the pills and washed it down with the NyQuil. Soon enough I passed out.
I woke up in the morning wishing I hadn’t. So of course I went about my day and went to work.
A feeble attempt at taking my own life that now, looking back, was an indication I didn’t actually want to die. I had always felt that suicide was the coward’s way out, because a man has to deal with everything no matter what, right?!
No matter how bad it gets, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how far away we get from who we really are, we have to suck it up and deal with it, because that’s what men do.
But thankfully, I was wrong
Fast forward one year and I was in culinary school training to be a chef.
I was drinking every night. I was smoking pot. I had tried much more.
And I was failing out. I had to convince the school to give me another chance, to not send me home. I didn’t want to be a failure, and being a chef is what I wanted to do.
Until one fateful morning, when my entire life changed with a thought.
I woke up that morning in my bed, not knowing how I had gotten there, drenched in sweat, reeking of alcohol.
As I awoke and surveyed my situation, a thought occurred to me – if I don’t get control of the drugs and drinking before I am 21, if I can buy my own alcohol, then I am going to die. Full stop.
Emotions flooded in. Memories of all the pain I had caused myself and all those around me I loved, flooded in. I fully understood and accepted that I had no control over drugs and alcohol, that I had wasted years of my life consumed by it.
The worst of all was this – I had lost myself. The moral compass I always held had been shattered by my actions of the past 5 years. I had become that which I loathe and hate.
And in that place, I became uplifted by another thought – I need help, and that’s okay.
And so a new journey began
20 years ago, on that morning, a new journey began for me. It was a journey of recovery, of making amends, and of rediscovering who I really am.
It was, and is, a journey of understanding who I am as a man, and what being a man really means.
It’s defining for myself what success is, not simply taking on that which society and the media tells me.
It’s being the change I want to see in the world, and taking that on not because someone else is telling me I should, but because when I use the emotional guidance system we all have, to feel how that thought feels, it simply feels right.
So what is that change?
The change I want to see in the world
I envision a society where men are able to truly be themselves, where they have become the role models others can look up to and respect, and where they treat all those they come across with respect and dignity.
I envision a society in which my daughters are treated by men with the respect and dignity they deserve; where they never fear harassment or degradation because they are women; where they can express their true selves, where they treat everyone with respect and dignity.
That society, my friend, is ours to have, and it’s completely possible.
Here’s what I think it’s going to take –
Creating a new culture of masculinity
What does that mean exactly? Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. Thankfully I don’t have to come up with the answer, because WE will!
I’m doing what I do – taking action and engaging in conversations, figuring it out as I go.
For me the answers reveal themselves as long as I am true to myself, taking the next right action, and talking with others. So that’s what I’m doing.
I’m starting before I’m ready, because I need to start. Every fiber of my being is telling me I need to start.
And so I am. This is my start, in all it’s glorious imperfection.
Here’s what’s true for me
As a man, a father, a husband, a son – I am both sickened and hopeful by what I see.
I am sickened because I see a world in which my daughters are not safe, a world where men sexually harass and abuse women seemingly without fear of retribution. I see a world in which people are treated not based on their individual merits and unique talents, but on their gender, their background, or the color of their skin.
And yet I am hopeful.
I am hopeful because I see change occurring. I see those with the power being knocked off their pedestals by those who now have a voice. I see a generation open to new ideas, willing to be open and vulnerable, willing to be human, and being respectful of our differences.
I am hopeful because I know change can occur. I have seen endless examples in my own life and the lives of others. I have come from a life of privilege, gone to the darkest depths of addiction and hopelessness, and come out the other side the person I truly want to be – true to myself, and not afraid to speak my truth.
I am hopeful because I know that by working with you, together, we can bring about the change we all want to see.
I am hopeful because I know you can become the hero we all need you to be.
After all – who do we have to look up to? The billionaires, sports stars and musicians the media tells us to look up to? How many of us want to become that? How many of us know those people?
Instead, let us look up to the people around us
Let’s look up to the single mom working two jobs to feed her kids.
Let’s look up to the dad trying his best to provide and be there for his family, while shouldering the emotional burden of not knowing what it means to be a man today.
Let’s look up to our friend who is paying her own way through college, taking on debt to achieve a better future for herself.
Let’s look up to the entrepreneurs creating businesses not to make a quick, 5-10x exit, but creating spaces where people can fully realize their natural talents, and feel valued as they use them.
Let’s look up to our parents who have always done the best they could, with the circumstances they created for themselves.
Our heroes have fallen off their pedestals. We've got to create our own heroes now.
We’ve got to be the heroes.
Because if not you, then who?