This week, I had an opportunity to do something I’ve never done before. I was invited to speak at a rehabilitation center for addicts at a downtown New York hospital. I was asked to share my story of strength, hope, and courage with a group of people who are at a vulnerable place and many of them looking for motivation to change the direction of their lives. I consider it a privilege to be able to be of service like this.
I didn’t know what to expect of the people who I was going to speak to. I suppose I didn’t have that many expectations at all, being that this was an utterly novel experience for me. But when I did get there, I was immediately and acutely intimidated. 90 percent of my audience, consisting of about 30 people, were men. All of them were people who had gone to hell and back, and the choice ahead of them remains: whether or not to re-enter that hell.
I feel confident in saying that all of the people I met at the rehab center have had to grow very thick skins in order to survive and deal with everything they have been through. I also feel pretty confident in saying that there was more than one person in the room who’s had to experience a hard life. Homeless, and on the streets of New York. My initial thought was naturally this: who am I to speak to these people? Why would they listen to me, and will they? I’m heartened to say that they did. Indeed, they listened quite intently as I told them my story. And as I saw the nodding heads of people who I would otherwise probably never interact with, I felt an indescribable feeling of connectedness. Human compassion is a powerful thing. I felt that energy going both ways as I spoke.
My story, however different from theirs, also contains many similarities. We all have approximately the same range of emotion (at least before those emotions get suppressed by trauma) and by potential tragedies we might live through. We all have reacted in similar ways to hardships of varying degrees that we’ve encountered. We’ve all been trying to fill a hole in our hearts with whatever has been accessible to us at any given time. But that hole doesn’t stand a chance to get filled until we understand what that hole is, and what’s caused it. By speaking to that group of people on Saturday the hole in my own heart got patched a bit.
As I walked out of the hospital on Saturday, I congratulated myself: I have some fucking balls to do that. To be quite honest, speaking in front of these people in the midst of what must be one of the most challenging periods in their lives may have been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I actually see it as a sort of graduation for me. Our hardships and experiences are not to be measured against each other. It’s not about who drank the most alcohol, who did the most drugs, who was abused most brutally, or alternately, who became the biggest success, who had the most money, who was the most popular and loved. It’s all relative. The human experience is what we all have in common. I admit that I often judge people prior to investigation and I’m sure that in turn, me walking into a room like that raised some eyebrows. But I’m grateful for the warmth and understanding I received for my service. I sensed a mutual respect. Even if I said one thing that will help someone in that room remain sober, it will have been worth it. And yes, I would do it again. In a heartbeat.