When I got into alcohol and drug treatment I had this amazing counselor who’s made some major impressions upon me and my views of the world. I remember one time I walked into his office with my black DC shoes, my black Dickies pants, black hoodie, and black ray-bans, and he just looked up and laughed. He said, “Clift, man, when are you going to start dressing like a normal human being and stop walking around like you’re getting ready to rob a bank? If you keep walking around like that you can only go so far in this world.”
If anybody else had said that to me I’d have been offended, but when he said it I understood. He was right. I was hiding under a facade. I had made myself completely unapproachable, and because of the way that I came off to others I created a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s almost like a chronic complainer. You know any of those? It’s like, “Why did I even ask?” The only difference is that nobody would ask me anything because I dressed in a way that told the world to fuck off.
One time Ken asked me what I did for food, and I told him that I ate a $1.40 bean and rice burrito a day. He laughed, not at me but with me, and just said something like, “Clift, man… that’s not okay. That’s not normal!” He then challenged me. He said I had half the battle won because I liked to read, and that all I needed to do was take my book with me into restaurants. This was my treatment program for conquering heroin addiction: go to a movie by yourself, or go sit down at a restaurant and order a meal by yourself, but instead of just hiding in your book try to start a conversation with a server. And that’s what I did, and I left the hoodie at home.
Action seems to be a common theme on this blog. Action coupled with mindfulness. You see, I was the type of junky that would show up at the connects house with $8, and I would tell him I needed a dime. I give him $8 for $10 worth of shit, and never understood why people thought I was sketchy. Ken was the first person who put it into words though, he would tell us these hilarious stories about when he used to smoke crack, and then he went into the “Dime for Eight.”
One day Ken told me that drugs aren’t the only things we can show up short for. Yeah it’s one thing to show up to the connects house with $8 and cry that he won’t front you a dime, but it’s a whole different beast when you show up to life with $8 and expect a dime in results. Life doesn’t give a damn about why you’re short $2 worth of effort. Life pays what you put into it, and if you don’t have the rent when it collects you’ll be lucky to get a nickle.
One of the last times I saw Ken was in a group of dissident treatment patients. Everyone was pissed off about being in group that night, and nobody would cooperate. So Ken walked around the circle to each chair where a patient was sitting, and he bent down and pulled out a pretend key and unlocked the invisible chains that bound us to the chair. He said, “There’s the door. Go. You’re free.” Nobody got up.
He walked over to the whiteboard and pulled out an expo marker and he wrote 2+2=5. He turned around smug, and pointed around the circle with his expo marker and said, “This is what ya’ll are doing. This is insane. If you are a two, and life is a two, but you need a five to succeed, and life is the constant, then what are you going to change?”
That day I left the room and started to make the changes I need to make to become a three. I’m not some street junky anymore, and I can’t operate my life based on street junky hustler logic.
You want to climb hard? You want that big promotion? You want to be a good parent? You want to be a good husband? You want to find somebody to spend your life with? Then stop short changing yourself and put in the work, because if you’re a two, and you’re expecting to pull a three, I guarantee you’re going to come up with a lot less that four. Ken was generous in his equation, because when we approach life short changing ourselves the solution is often nothing.