Their disease made them look down. Down in shame. Down in desperation. Looking down to find deposit cans and bottles, dropped coins and bills, wrapped candy, half smoked cigarettes, small glassine bags with cocaine, heroin residue, a discarded cannabis “roach,” packages, delivered to doorsteps, with nobody home. Lottery tickets were long shots, almost always scratched up losers, but too potentially valuable to go unnoticed, to go unchecked.
Their disease of substance abuse had narrowed their focus to drugs and the means to get enough of them.
They were once boys who looked up at shifting cloud patterns and soaring birds. Rainbows and sunsets. Meteors and moon glow. Dust motes dancing, leaves floating, insects in flight. Now they looked down.
Looking down, they could no longer see the wildflowers blooming, smooth pebbles and shiny stones, reflections in puddles, industrious ants. There was no longer interest in shadows dancing with sidewalk cracks.
Most couldn’t hear what I was suggesting as a substance abuse counselor, couldn’t hear that they could be broke, beaten down drug-free and as alive again as they once were as boys.
I tried to tell them many men, without the prompting of the horror of drug addiction, would never regain the joy of looking up. The joy of looking down. These men would have their eye on the prizes of corporate America, the rewards framed by advertisers. These men would notice tits and ass, suckers and opportunities, which assess to kiss and which ones to kick, but would never recover the wonder of what was just overhead and what was right under their noses, because disease hadn’t lead them to avert their gaze from some future carrot, just out of reach.
Many men that do not have substance abuse disorders are abused by the consumption of drugs anyway. Drugs that provide stamina and focus, drugs that numb pain to stay in the game, to take the sting out of, or be distracted from the agony of defeat.
Many men believe, to quote Robert Frost, that they have, “many promises to keep and miles to go before they sleep.” Drugs help them believe that the path to tranquility and fulfillment must be paved as you go with money to patch every pothole. For these men rest comes only in the form of death.
My disease isn’t substance abuse, it’s Parkinson’s disease with its load of anxiety, depression, memory problems, slowed thinking ability, reduction in the ability to multitask and work on multiple complex problems within the same hour and muscle control difficulties. Too bad it’s a progressive neurodegenerative disease with no known cure.
My disease makes me look up and ask “why me?” and “is there anybody up there that gives a shit?” It makes me look down and think about how my disease could lead to forgetting the names of loved ones and then who I am and once was.
Funny thing though, when I decided there was no safe place that I could journey to escape this disease, I took my eyes off the horizon. I lost track of the glimmer of hope sparked by medical research. I lost track of the gathering storm clouds. I found myself spending more time looking up and looking down and being thrilled to be alive.
I am so grateful my brain can’t do what it once could. It is as if the disease is burning up some of my intellect. What I expected would be a more terrible view of the black oblivion of approaching mortality, instead provides a glimpse of the nameless, cloudless sky of infinite potential. Who knew?
Someday my disease may result in me being “out of it” from time to time. Right now, it seems to be helping me be “in it,” more than I ever have been.
When I drive my car, I drive. When I eat, I eat. When I walk, I walk. When I want to get somewhere special, I look up or I look down or I look at what is right in front of me or play “peek-a-boo” with what is behind me.
I miss how I could be doing one thing with my body and three other things with my mind at the same time. However, now I realize that these abilities also helped me stay on the road to nowhere, helped me not wake up to a realization of this place of infinite beauty, this place I have always been.
Now let me be real. Much of the time I think all kinds of thoughts unrelated to what I am doing. I am far from being a Zen master. I, as a man, still wish I could take more credit for discovering where I have always been. I wish I could tell you that it took hard work, focus and grit to get where I am today. Problem is, it didn’t. I wish I could write something brilliant here that would transform your life. This would help me feel less guilty about my good fortune. Unfortunately, I have no brilliant transformative thing that I know how to do for you.
I wish I could suggest that you buy my book, to learn more about the secrets of my process, but I have no book and know no secrets. I wish I had something I could sell you that would help me with my bills, but no such luck.
What I do have for you is compassion if you are suffering from a disease. My gift to you is the advice to spend more time looking up, more time looking down.
If you can’t see or if you can’t move your neck, bring your awareness with any modality that you are in control of, to what is above you and what is below you and know, that even if you don’t believe it right now, right now you are in a place of infinite beauty.
Please be open to knowing that the fog of your suffering only obscures your view. Pay attention as to how the fog can go away from time to time, without you understanding how or why. Pay attention to the infinite potential of attention.
If I knew that you liked what I have written here, I could tell myself that at least my ability to write is still somewhat intact. To be honest, though, I didn’t write this well before my diagnosis. In ways I don’t understand, I believe this disease has played a critical role in bringing out this writing. I hope you agree.
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