My bags are packed. Everything is set for my move from downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn early tomorrow morning. I feel a little lost.
I spent this past weekend in the Pocono Mountains camping with 200 others. It was an incredible weekend of recovery, new friendships and new direction. The first night I felt a little off. I wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was just a little anxiety from the trip. Perhaps I was a bit intimidated by the large group of people, most of whom I didn’t know. So during a campfire meeting I shared something with these 200 people, mostly strangers. I hadn’t prepared anything to say. Sometimes I know exactly what I want to say, so much so that it sounds scripted. This time was different. I just let my thoughts fly. I was standing in the back row behind all of the others seated comfortably. My jeans were torn at the knee and I had on a shirt that said “Lost Weekend NYC.” I was hard to miss.
I raised my voice above the sound of whispers and the popping fire. “I feel a little lost” I told the group. “I’m moving to Brooklyn this week and for the first time in my life I feel like I’m slipping away from my past in Texas.” My voice began to shake. “I feel like I belong in New York for the first time. My first two years in the city are now mostly fractured memories, lost nights and missed opportunities. Bad relationships and confusion. There was nothing magical about it. I came to this city to be something bigger and instead I was beat harder than ever before. I disappeared. I could say I escaped but I didn’t really escape to anything in particular, or from anything for that matter. Escape seems to imply that I was headed somewhere, but really I was just hiding out, isolating.”
I felt the eyes of the group fixed on me. Some people nodding as if to say “I understand.” I didn’t have any meaningful relationships. I didn’t build anything reliable or worthwhile. I just moved from one city to a different city. One room for another room. Same bed. Same everything. “And then,” I continued, “in January of this year the bottom fell out. I couldn’t keep up anymore. I was losing my family. I was losing my sanity. I was on the brink of losing my life. It was no longer a joke. It had become a foregone conclusion that I would either change or I would slowly drift away from everything I loved and everyone that loved me and I would be completely shattered, alone and lost for good. I was at a crossroads. As real as it could get. There were no more ways out. No more second chances. I had run out of options, my time was nearly over.”
My share was running long but nobody stopped me. Some had tears, others were just blank. I hadn’t ever been this honest before. I had told my story many times but this time was different. This time I wasn’t trying to deliver a message. I was letting go of my past.
“I don’t remember everything. I remember sitting in my parents apartment, my brother looking at me with desperation. My parents across the room with tears in their eyes. My sister on the bed. I was sitting near the door, the game was over. They told me they had found some places where I could get help. They told me it was over. I had to change. It was exhausting to love me. The pain had gotten too deep. If I was set on destruction I was no longer going to have an audience. I would have to go it alone. I listened the best I could. For the first time I don’t think I fought too much. I didn’t have any fight left in me. I had no more secrets, no backdoor exits. No more excuses. I told them I would go to treatment. I was so tired. I never wanted it to come to this.”
Nobody stopped me. Everybody kept listening.
“To say I knew what I was getting myself into would be a lie. I only knew that something had to change. I was in treatment for 58 days. Slowly I started to understand what I had done. What I had left my family with all of these years. I had to rebuild. I owed something to them. I owed something to myself. I got back to the city April 11th and I began my new life. I had taken only a baby step, but at least it was in the right direction this time. I began to see things differently. And now I’m here.”
I ended on a soft note. My eyes were full of tears but I didn’t let one slip down my cheek. I guess I had gotten out what I wanted to. But the truth was behind these words. The reason I feel a little lost is because for all intents and purposes I am very new to this city. I am not re-learning anything. I am learning how to live, how to survive in this city. I am learning how to love others. How to be honest and useful. And I am learning it as a New Yorker.
I got sober in this city. I reconnected with my brother and sister in this city. I have spent the most meaningful time of my life in this city. I have been a reliable uncle here. I am trusted here. I was reborn in this city. And that is why I feel a little off. The person I am today was raised in Texas. I was shaped by my parents, my grandfather, my teachers and my friends. The community in Houston. I learned to be a good person in Texas. To be compassionate. To say “yes ma’am.” I met my best friends in Texas. And I felt like I was losing Texas. Like I had moved on for good. And in some ways I have. My childhood is rooted back home but I grew up in New York City. I became a man here. After years of running away I learned to fight back. To fight for my family. To want to be a better brother and son. To want to be someone that my niece and nephew can look up to. Someone they can be proud of. This is the hardest I have ever worked for something. I believe in myself. I believe that what I am fighting for is worth it.
But I haven’t forgotten my past. I wouldn’t have my smile without Texas. I speak a little more slowly than the people up here, a little softer. I am calm. I am patient. And I didn’t learn that here.