Sometimes you need to jump just to see if you can fly.
Because if you don’t, you may never move on from where you are in life.
That doesn’t just apply to leaving the nest, or family home: forging a new path can take a million different forms.
Running away from rehab was the start of my new life.
Have you ever been dumped on a doorstep? Too many bad turns, weird choices and eventful evenings had all led to this: drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Pisshead, junkie, waster and no-life. That’s what the receptionist’s eyes told me as I walked in for the first time.
No, staggered. OK – I did chug a six-pack of beer before I went in. That is one of my lesser regrets.
But I was piss drunk when I went in.
At least it was my last time drinking.
Our prison was a hellish landscape of dim-eyed ghosts drifting around in a complete, non chemical calm. Not the good kind. More like all of the edges had been sanded off.
Conversation tended to be about as heavy and dissatisfying as a cheap store-bought bottle of whiskey. My peers were never in a great mood, sometimes an alright one, often though they would be dour and boring.
It wasn’t exactly prison. But it kinda was. They lock doors in prison.
In prisons you get riots.
There was an interesting mix in the facility I was staying at. Out in the sticks, to the north and nearly out of state in California. As you can imagine, some people wanted to stay low key for the obvious reason that they are very well known.
Someone who wasn’t that famous, yet acted like he had been a member of The Beatles… is a guy I would only say used to be an NFL player. Let’s call him Carl.
He was a strong campaigner for further freedoms and the biggest critic of what he saw as a prison. The staff were wary of him because of how verbally aggressive he got and at nearly two metres tall, no one wanted to stand up against him. Carl really was a bully but if you stayed out of his way you would generally be left alone.
That is until, one day, I was at a vending machine trying to dig out change for a soda when a low booming voice made me jump.
‘Yo… is that an ID? They took mine when I checked in,’ said Carl, looking at me with one eyebrow raised.
Recognising the mischief in his eyes was not enough to avoid what was coming next. Plucking my wallet from me with monstrous quarterback hands, Carl went off to find his cronies. I followed limply behind.
Now none of us really had access to much money in rehab. I wasn’t sure at this point what Carl would try to do.
It became clear as Carl and his compadres got cleared to ‘go for a walk, miss, be back before dinner y’all’ and began chattering excitedly about lifting beer from a nearby convenience store.
This is exactly what they did: shoved cans in their pockets on the way to the register to buy what little beer they could afford. Carl’s group managed to pull together enough alcohol for a real party.
Oh the chaos… it became a blur. Maybe this was my last night of drinking… I could have had a can, or two, perhaps… I don’t know.
Carl and his gang got so drunk that they raided the rehab center’s kitchen. Morning staff came in to find sandwich meat and bread all over the place, the room a total disaster, and the beer cans and half-eaten sandwiches everywhere belying a drunken ransacking.
Many of Carl’s people got sent to prison for violating their parole. Carl himself stayed put with nothing so much as a warning.
I had decided by this point that enough was enough. Tired of living like this, I decided to pack my things and leave.
In the middle of a cruel Californian winter I ran from rehab holding a renewed sense of purpose. I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to turn my life around.
The previous ten years had been a booze-filled and hellish nightmare with all the classic tales of woe. That’s right, I had my fair share of toxic relationships, drug-related jail terms and was even kidnapped once. No lifestyle for anyone, I told myself.
I can make myself better.
Close the door of the past to open the door of the future, I told myself…
But first I needed a reality check. I was 300 miles away from home and my small rucksack made me ill-equipped to cope with the stormy November weather. I began asking directions to the nearest Greyhound bus station so I could return to the streets I knew best. San Jose, California.
‘You ran from the program, you can’t come home.’
My internal dialogues were usually more scathing than how my loved ones treated me, especially mom. She helped me with a deposit for a place to rent and I had already found a job in Santa Cruz, slowly building my life up. Very slowly. I had no car, zero friends and yet to adjust to a life of sobriety.
I was so lost. I even called up the rehab center because I just did not know what to do with myself.
‘Sure, come back. If your heart is calling you into treatment then we have a bed for you,’ the owner said on the phone.
I told him I was on my way. But then, as soon as I put the phone down, an immeasurable and strong urge washed over me. What I really wanted was to rediscover myself and build a new life.
I told myself: ‘I’m not going back to where I was. I am moving forward from now.’
Still so lost from sobriety but suddenly with focus. All I knew to do was continue to be productive, every single day, until I started to pick up the pieces of my life again.
Keep busy and love yourself, love others. Eventually it will come back to you with interest.