Monday, November 29, 2010

From playmate to inmate…how I got here – Part 6

Uncle Sammy.

Under the cover of Christmas break – and after just one semester – I snuck back to the university and recovered my gear from my dorm room.  The university had strongly suggested I not return.  

It’s amazing what a .96 GPA will get you.

I had now experienced my first taste of failure.

In defeat, I headed home unaware of the turbulent storm with self that was brewing on the horizon.  Fueled by rebellion, self-centeredness and pleasure, I began to make choices that would lay a false foundation in which to exist.  It wasn’t long before the outcome of my choices began to reveal the actual storm that raged within.  The storm would settle in for several years to come.

Barely out of my teens, I was forced with some very adult decisions to make.

With no job to speak of, no money to continue college, and a family to support, I decided to explore the option of joining the United States Air Force.  In all honesty, I really didn’t want to do it; I was scared of the unknown and extremely unsure of myself due to being bitten by a string of poor choices.  Besides that, the Air Force didn’t sound like it matched up with my mental attitude at the time.


The very selfish, self-centered, rebellious me wanted to live on pleasure and party with the boys.  From what I understood, the Air Force was big on 





This to me sounded all too familiar.  But in the end, logic added up over my empty checkbook, and I decided to clean myself up and submit to Uncle Sam for the next four years.  

This wouldn’t be the last time I “cleaned myself up.”

Now, it may be hard for some of you to believe, but I took to the Air Force like a fish to water.  Why wouldn’t I?  I understood the concept of living under rules, accountability, discipline, and structure, and I certainly knew a few things about conforming to fit in.  So with those things in my favor, I thrived in the military environment and began to slowly pull myself out of the proverbial dark hole of my reckless choices.

It didn’t take long before I was able to support my family as well as get back into college full-time at night.  I even ventured out and tested my entrepreneurial abilities by starting my own little lawn care business.  I was busy, productive and achieving the goals that I’d set before me.  

Don’t get me wrong – all was not picture perfect.

I was still very self-centered and loved to slip in a little pleasure with the drink every now and again (emphasis on the again).  But for the most part, I seemed to be growing up.

By the end of my first four year enlistment, I had been promoted to Sergeant, earned a college degree, and been selected to become a US Air Force recruiter – which came with a little give and take.  

I got to move back East, 

but had to give Uncle Sam four more years of my life.

One morning, just prior to moving back East, I woke up with what I thought was an excruciating earache.  Unable to bare the pain, I decided to go to the base clinic and get it checked out.  

What I would find that day would set into motion 

a LOVE-HATE affair that would last, 

on and off, for nearly two decades.

After I had been examined, poked, prodded and x-rayed, the doctor came into the room and announced,

“I have some good news and bad news…which do you want first?”

Although, this may seem like a clever little way to deliver bad news, when it comes out of your doctor’s mouth, it has a tendency to be quite unnerving.  He asked me if I’d been in an accident or if I’d been experiencing headaches recently - to which the answer was NO.  This questioning was not helping my anxiety.  He proceeded to ask me if I’d had any dental work done lately – to which the answer was YES.  I’d had my wisdom teeth extracted not too long ago.  With a nod of his head and a raised eyebrow, the doctor said “that makes sense.”

The good news:  I didn’t have an earache.

The bad news: I had something terribly wrong with my right jaw.

It (my right jaw joint) was severely inflamed and very, very sore.  But why?  Probably a result of my recent wisdom teeth surgery, but he could not answer for sure.  I had to see a maxillofacial/oral surgeon IMMEDIATELY.  Fortunately he was in the same building.  So with records and x-rays in hand, I was off for the first of many appointments with the specialist.  His preliminary diagnosis was Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ), brought on my having my jaw joint overextended during my wisdom teeth extraction.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much the specialist could do for me at the time.  Both the swelling and the pain needed to be gotten under control before he could better determine the extent of the damage.  So with an appointment to see him the following week, he loaded me up with…

anti-inflammatory meds,

muscle relaxers,

and...PAIN PILLS –


The love affair would begin.

…from the inside…ray-ray

Monday, November 15, 2010

From playmate to inmate…how I got here - Part 5

Trick or Treat.

Sadly, when I went away to college I didn’t’ go to get an education…I went to get away from home.  My naughty-by-nature, self-conscious, small town, cookie cutter identity had not only grown weary of rural American living – my rebellious attitude had also waxed tired of the…





…of my parents.  The love, protection and provisions they gave me had somehow become distorted.  I perceived them as a hindrance – an out-and-out attempt to stifle my life.

I had allowed myself to be hoodwinked. 

I was ready for bigger and better things – the hills of my hometown could hold me no longer.  Propelled by arrogance and ignorance, I was ready for 


-  whether I could handle it or not.

The warmth of the sun standing tall in the crystal clear Carolina blue sky, still held its own with crisp pre-fall air of early September – a good day to move.  It was a bitter-sweet, nervous but exciting anticipation I felt as me and my parents lugged boxes, bags, remnant carpet, mini-fridge, clothes and other essentials into my new 12x12 domain (sounds a little like jail – minus the carpet and mini-fridge J).  After Mom’s ritual check and recheck of things, making sure her baby’s gear was precisely arranged, put up and in order, it was time to say our goodbyes (at least for a week).  As I waved goodbye with a hint of tears in my eyes, I remember thinking to myself, 

“Now what do I do?”

The day I had longed and hoped for was now here…but at that moment for some strange reason, I could not remember why I wanted it so bad. 

I missed my parents.

The campus was big, but not large.  Like most good sized universities there were hundreds of students in my general education classes.  I soon began to feel like “a number” – just one of many.  There were thousands of people from all over the country with a plethora of various genres represented.  To me they all seemed much more intriguing, had done many more interesting things and came from social worlds that seemed much more attractive than anything I’d experienced thus far.  

Talk about reality check!  

Any inkling of self-awareness or worth that I brought from home was almost instantaneously dispelled.  Over the first few weeks, I would begin to discover holes in my shield.  Who I thought I was did not seem to fit in this world.  I felt stripped, naked and vulnerable – I didn’t know who I was anymore, or why I was even there.  My plan had back-fired.  Loneliness settled in.  I didn’t know what to do…

…or did I?...


…I had to adjust…

…adjust to fit in…



…DO NOT be made fun of!

I started hanging out with a group of more socially savvied guys on my hall – in other words – PARTIERS.  Like most “suitcase colleges”, Thursday night was the big party night.  And for the most part, at least for the first few weeks, partying with the socially skilled was contained to that night.  Although, it wasn’t long before Thursday extended to Friday…and Friday to Saturday.  Drinking quickly became our common denominator; “the drink” was involved no matter what we did.

The popular salutation of Halloween, Trick or Treat, took on a new meaning for me that fall.  On Halloween night, I “upped the ante” on my party world – 

I bought my first bag of pot.

Sure, I’d seen it in high school, even experimented with it one or two times (wink, wink), but I certainly was no Jeff Spicoli of Fast Times at Ridgemont High…(yet).   

Oh what TREAT I thought I’d found!

A substance that allowed me to change the way I felt – at the flick of a Bic.  With one little “poof-poof” I could make myself feel good and confident, chasing away any feelings of inferiority and insecurity.  I could relax and come out of my shell.  I soon discovered three parts of a principle that would shape my existence for many years to come.

1)      When I smoked dope, I was funny.

2)      Other people thought I was funny too - they like me – accepted me – wanted to be around me.

3)      I liked both 1 & 2…a lot!

Soon after this discovery, like the drinking, the pot smoking picked up too.  It started off as something I did with the guys on party night, but it wasn’t long before that wasn’t enough.  I had to be ready to perform from the get-go.  I had to be on point and funny before they picked me up.  Consequently, I started smoking dope by myself…everyday…all day.  

It didn’t take long before I crossed the line – 

the psychological, imaginary line of dependency on a substance to control the way I felt…

and I didn’t even know it.

- The TREAT had become a TRICK.-

At that time all I knew was that I liked this newly discovered power.  The little boy had grown up and found the soothing and comforting power of pleasure – right at his finger tips (no pun intended).  A synthetic and pseudo form of pleasure, but in my mind, pleasure, nonetheless.  A romance was born – a romance augmented by an intense sneaky drive for excitement.  

Unbeknownst to me, hedonism –

the love of excitement and pleasure

- was slowly becoming my god.  A god that would patiently and stealthily try to destroy me!

…from the inside…ray-ray

Monday, November 8, 2010

From playmate to inmate…how I got here - Part 4

Identity by conformity.
I was going to start this blog with the statement, “I hated high school” – but after thinking about it a bit, I decided that “hate” was a little too strong of a word. So I’ll begin this way…

For the record, I extremely disliked high school (come to think of it, Jr. High too).  The cliques, struggle to fit in, search for identity, and mere awkwardness of growing up…all centered around academics and sitting still in a classroom all day (remember, I’m self-diagnosed ADHD).  

I mean seriously…give me a break...this was not my idea of a good time.

Don’t get me wrong there were some good times in the midst of the mess – but that can be said of jail too. In fact, in any given situation, circumstance or time of life there are always those people you meet or special times and memories that are produced that would not have happened nor could have been duplicated outside of that particular situation, circumstance or time.  So in that regard, high school was OK.

I have great memories of “running the roads” (as my dad called it), going to the mall on weekends, Friday night football games, and double dating with my best friend from life.  A little piece of irony, his nickname was “High School”.

That's High School on the left.

I will never forget my first car - a cool old car, a 1966 Mustang - and cruising “the park” (our teenage hangout) on warm summer nights listening to Lover Boy and Tom Petty…on 8 track!

I smile when I think about basketball and golf team away trips, and the memory of a high school dance that I had “way too much” fun at.

Since I’m on this little trip of nostalgia, looking back introspectively I’d have to say that I was average in intelligence, average in looks and average in popularity – somewhere between

Marty McFly


Tom Cruise.

I dressed like, wore my hair like and acted like 75% of my classmates.  In reality, any one of us could have been the “poster child” for the small town middle class preppy.

If perception is reality…then, to that extent I knew who I was.

When all was said and done, and graduation FINALLY rolled around, I had at least survived this battle with the struggle to appear smart, strong and popular. 

CONFORMITY had been my shield.

…from the inside…ray-ray

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From playmate to inmate…how I got here – Part 3

The dirt bike posse.
In my pre-teen years, most of the boys in my neighborhood had dirt bikes.  (Back in the day, we had neighborhoods, not housing developments.)  I was sooo jealous.  I wanted one sooo bad.  My dad was a smart man, though – he knew what he was working with – he knew I’d kill myself on one.

Insight insert:  At this time Evil Knievel was my hero. 
I was already trying to imitate him by jumping my
black and yellow banana-seat bicycle over trash cans.

So, I was forced to observe my “friends” rip and roar up and down the hills and trails of the large undeveloped area next to my neighborhood. (I’m pretty sure there’s a housing development there now.)

One afternoon I heard the familiar sounds of the two-stroke engines in the distance.  I quickly found my bike, adorned myself with my Baltimore Colts football helmet (thanks cousin Tom – and the Colts were from Baltimore back in the day) and took off for the field, peddling as hard and fast as my skinny little legs would take me.

I showed up on the scene about the time several of the riders decided to take a break.  They were sitting on their motorcycles talking as I peddled my two-wheeler into the midst of them to say “what’s up.”  I’d like to be able to report that they welcomed me with open arms into their dirt bike posse – they did not.  On the contrary…they laughed and made fun of me (imagine that).  My banana-seat bike and Baltimore Colts helmet did not meet the standard of “cool” according to the posse.

The embarrassment smarted.

Not being accepted stung.

As I tucked my tail between my legs and peddled for home, I was hurt and rejected.  Little did I know then, that the seed of a false formula had been planted within me.  I sought refuge in my tree house.  It was there in the solitude of self that I vowed to never – as long as I could help it – be made fun of again. 

It was from this point that I began to rely on what other people thought of me to gauge my self-worth – a very unhealthy way to live.  The manner in which I would act, perform and respond to life’s various situations, circumstances and people had now been perverted.  The false formula had not only been planted, but was now alive and growing.  It looked something like this (found in The Search for Significance):

My performance

Plus the opinions of others

Equals my self-worth.

What a high order and very unrealistic goal…especially with Jr. and Sr. High on the horizon. 

…from the inside…ray-ray