Shelter in Place: The New Normal.
When Things Feel Dire, there’s light…
Back in August of 2003, there was a blackout on the East Coast. Not a brief, 3-hour power outage that caused a momentary amount of discomfort for a select few neighborhoods. I mean ALL ELECTRICITY WAS OUT FOR DAYS.
I’ll never forget it. It was a difficult time for all of us: many people who lived in Brooklyn, but worked in NYC, had to trek across the Brooklyn Bridge to get home – there were no subways running, and all of the traffic lights were out. It was a HOT summer.
For many, this was more than just a temporary inconvenience. But for me, a man who was in the grips of a chronic addiction to crack cocaine, it was BRUTAL. I had been home for months, having lost my previous job due to my erratic behavior and frequent attendance issues. And life for my family was already a living hell long before the electricity went out.
One of my least proud moments, among many, was selling the only air conditioner during a heatwave to pay for my habit. I had sold many of my kids’ toys, among other items that weren’t nailed down in our tiny East Flatbush apartment. It is a shameful period of my life, but it is one that I keep at the front of my memory, to remember how bad things can get if I let the demon out…if I ever deem it safe to sip even one “innocent” bottle of beer.
When the electricity went out, I was home with my three sons, who had been playing video games. They had grown accustomed to Daddy’s vacant stares, his lack of interest in their developing lives, but they were still too young to really know what was up – my standing excuse was “Daddy is sick.” Not entirely untrue, but less than the full truth. This was THEIR new normal.
Suddenly, the power went out, and I was not alarmed at first…
I was more distracted by my own inner thoughts about how I was going to scam some money to get high. I thought perhaps it was a brown out, and that the power would be back within the hour. Maybe it was just contained to our building, or our block.
After about 30 minutes, I pulled myself together enough to venture outside. Going out, in my own neighborhood, was always uncomfortable in broad daylight. Most of my neighbors already knew that I was a crackhead, and they rarely ever made eye contact with me, always glancing out of the side of their eyes with that “what the hell happened to HIM?” look on their faces. I had lost about 30lbs, and it showed. I was probably about 135 lbs soaking wet with a brick in each hand.
I swallowed my own shameful self-awareness long enough to learn from my neighbors that the outage was widespread, and throughout the entire borough of Brooklyn at least. Some folks had transistor radios, and learned that the outage was citywide. And later, we found out that the blackout stretched across the East Coast, with no estimate for how long it would last.
The seriousness of the situation was enough to break me out of my stupor…
…and allow the responsible adult in me to take over, and care for my kids…at least until their mother got home from work. Until then, I had to figure out how to keep the boys entertained and not worried while in the midst of a major catastrophe. All they cared about, at that point, was video games and not much else. But crafty old Dad had plenty of non-tech games to pull out of my back pocket.
There was that hand-slap game: you stand facing each other, with one pair of hands resting on top of another pair. The object of the game was for the person whose hands were facing up to slap the hands of the person whose hands were resting on them, before they had a chance to move them. Very low-tech, but fun.
When their mother came home, we decided to take a nighttime walk with the boys, to help them cool down in the sweltering heat. She and I were already on the outs, having destroyed our marriage and relationship with my selfish, destructive behavior. But we were on a truce, just to get through that situation. The boys were happy, relatively oblivious to the storm brewing between their parents, and they were just happy to have the both of us not yelling at each other long enough to have a nice stroll in the night air.
We returned to that hotbox apartment, lit some candles, and I stood in front of their bunk beds, fanning them with an empty record album cover and telling silly stories that I made up on the fly. We had just spent 8 straight hours with no electricity, and it took THAT long for me to see the light.
The very next day, we still had no electricity, but the phone was working. I called a drug rehabilitation program called Star House, located in Harlem. I was supposed to have checked myself in their months before, but I wasn’t “ready,” still needing more time to destroy what was left of my family and my own sanity. I BEGGED them to let me in, to give me a bed – I offered to walk across the bridge and into Harlem if they would. The counselor, Mike, told me to be there at 8am Monday morning. It was Friday, August 14th.
The last thing I had to do, besides packing my clothes, was to settle a $200 debt that I had with a drug dealer named “Cutter.” PRO TIP: Never run up a tab with a drug dealer, especially one named “Cutter.” I called my sister and asked her to wire me the money, so that I could check into rehab and not have to worry about the kids being hurt. Nicole was always there for me, and this time was no different.
Of course, in order to settle the debt, I had to venture into the crack den, past the offers of drugs, in order to make payment. The temptation to burn that $200 was strong, but not as strong as my desire to return to my boys a changed man. I couldn’t bear the thought of them, years later, having to explain to their friends that their Dad was either a) dead, b) in jail, or c) a crackhead living on the street somewhere. So, I paid Cutter, and I never looked back.
My sobriety date is August 17th, 2003.
Being “sheltered in place” with my sons, sans electricity, sans entertainment, sans distraction, gave my overstimulated brain the time to work out what the hell I was doing to myself and to my kids. Now, I’m not suggesting that being home for an extended amount of time, with bills mounting and fears of the infection spreading, is IDEAL.
What I am saying is that it may give us a chance to reconnect with family in deeper ways that really matter. When things are tough, we sometimes find ways to rise above, to summon our better selves, to find a way out of the darkness.
Things may seem dark right now, but within each of us there is a light that is brighter than all of the lights that went out that hot August night. We can, and will, light the way towards recovery.
You are awesome. True inspiration. That story made me cry. You dont need a stranger to tell you this, but i will anyways. I am proud of you for seeing that light.
Powerful and inspiring story.
Thank you for that story! I really admire you for telling it!
After having read how you struggled to get to where you are makes me like you more.
May you always see the light!
Thank you! I look forward to reading your book.
Been down that addiction road twice, at 21, inches from suicide, at 45, got put away for 4 straight years, scared straight, went back to college and got a BA degree. Been following you closely for 2 months now on twitter, you have a great mind. It takes nerve to spill your guts like that, and I am still very hesitant and of course we left a lot out, at least I did, at some point the meaning of life and how short it is becomes very important, thank you for sharing your struggles.
Man, your story broke me – thank you so much for letting yourself be seen, for connecting with strangers on such a deep level, for cracking open our judgements and stereotypes. I’m not an alcoholic or substance abuser myself but have several dear friends who have been in recovery for 15 – 25 yrs. I’ve always been knocked out when I’ve gone to their chip meetings and heard stories like yours, and how people are able to make amends – to the rest of us, well that seems completely impossible. “Own my own shit?? Hey, if it hadn’t been for xxxxx, or yyyy, or…. I’d have never done so and so” This whole planet needs itself a giant daily meeting. Your disclosure is such a gift and ray of hope. Thank you
This is a beautiful true story of your love for your family and yourself. This may save lives.
Thank you for sharing.
beautiful…being a dad (and for me, now a grandpa) has brought out the best in me, I think, at least I hope my grown daughters think so…raised in Queens, living in SF bay area since ’75, but I always recognize the wisdom of my fellow New Yorkers, and I certainly see it in your posts on Twitter…thank you BDD
Thanks for sharing that. I think we sometimes are so glued to devices or TV’s we are not really present these days. I had a friend who was an alcoholic for most of his life. He fell down the stairs cleaning out his Dad’s house after he died. He was heart really bad. Punctured lung, broken ribs, etc. He called me from the hospital. He told me it would be a long recovery. I told him that he should use it to stop drinking. He thought the idea had merit. Then I said that falling down the stairs was literally hitting bottom and a message from somewhere. (Pretty cruel considering he laughed so hard I think he hurt himself more). But 10 years later he is still sober. You were a tougher nut to crack and the whole East Coast had to suffer for you to get the message. I am glad you did because I enjoy your Twitter comments and your writing. We all have something to wake up from.
I would never have guessed any part of this. I grew up
the only non alcoholic in a pretty messy family. Thank goodness for Adult Children family groups through the 80’s and 90’s and PTSD treatment over that past year. I’m glad you got drug treatment when you needed it. I can add “strong” to other good qualities I know you have not the least being intelligent and persevering. I guess I was lucky drugs were never an option for me because I’ve been on blood thinners most of my adult life. I survived the first pulmonary embolism of seven when I was 23, something I don’t share with many Twitter friends. You write VERY well really looking forward to reading your book. You know me as @squelchedalot or Jennifer M on twitter
Thank you for sharing your story i found it very moving.
My dad got sober when I was 3. He joined AA and devoted his life to helping others. While my older siblings had a childhood defined by his drunken behaviour and a stormy relationship between my parents, I was raised through his sobriety and and an endless parade of people dad counseled and nurtured. He raised me to see that we’re all interconnected and we forgive each other for our own well-being. My parents have passed away but my children and their cousins remember them with joy laughter and pride. They soaked up unconditional love and acceptance. Because after all that’s the only really important thing in life – our ability to love and accept love
That last sentence has me bawling…unconditional love is my name for daddy. My world is so dark without him.
Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for having the strength to turn your life around, creating a healthier environment for your boys, and giving complete strangers hope.
I have a son I hope will have this awakening. Maybe the 2020 shelter in place is his catalyst.
I follow you on twitter. Your insight is always educated and compassionate.
Thanks for being such a defiant brooklyn dad. 💖
Your sorrow and love shines through, but is dim in comparison to your inner strength to right your wrongs. Bless your strong heart and your family.
BDD. Look at you now. What inspiration! Thank you for defying the stereotype of men our community. Keep it the great work you do online .
I’m watching you… 👀
Thank you so much for this. You have helped get one more day.
I always enjoy you on Twitter but this is such a powerful and inspiring part of your life to share with everyone that it makes me want to cry. You are an amazing human being and what you’ve said here validates the worth of every single person who ever wondered if life is worth the struggle. Thank you for being here.
I had no idea I could respect you more than I already respect you. Everyday I look forward to your truth, intellect & wit on Twitter so thank you for sharing a defining & inspirational time in your life. Thanks for inspiring all of us during the ridiculousness that is ‘Spanky’ and we too will see the other side of this Monster.
Congratulations on your sobriety and and new life Journey. Mine is some what similar and a few more months earlier, and my counselor called me HardCase. Thankful that each day is and has been a new day, these past 20 years is almost as if It has been a very long life time and doing so much, of which I had accomplished a lot the previous 23 yrs, but the last 6 I darn near destoryed myself and it has taken these 20 years to rebuild what those 8 yrs did. So very glad that the monkey is off the back for you as well as myself. Keep up the great work both at home and on Twitter, we stand united!
A very inspiring story that i can definitely relate to. My addiction was heroin and my clean date is April 1, 2019. I agree the shelter in place gives us all a moment to be still, a moment to take in the beauty of our family, and a moment to realize how very blessed we are.
Just read the most recent entry. You wrote so touchingly. Will gladly be following on.
I followed you on Twitter till I left some time ago & DM’d you several times. You are a rock star to me & I have continued to follow even after leaving Twitter. I do have a question pertaining to your book. Perchance, do you know the name of the book *cover* corp that is printing your book covers?