Persistence :The Ballad of Michael Harrell

Showing up for the next guy

“Yeah man, I know, I really need to go to sleep tonight. I haven’t slept in, like, 5 days.” Mike looked up at me, slowly, puzzled and confused as he watched me frantically draw up an unsettling sum of cocaine into the syringe. I’m sure that’s when he confirmed I was completely off the reservation, as if he couldn’t already tell from the nonsense I was spewing, confidently, pacing between the bathroom and the bed; probably not sharing the same optimistic sentiment I did about potentially sleeping. Mike had rushed over to my house to listen to my theory my relapse and a cocaine fueled hypothesis on the solution, I thought.

It was really a wellness check to reassure him I didn’t kill myself because he knew that I was alone, isolated, and could relate with exactly how that felt. He was there for me, frequently, after I’d relapsed. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but Mike has about an 80% relevancy score on the scale of, “Reasons I’m sober today and not fucking dead.”

It’s strange how life plays out.

Let me enlighten you on how I met Mike, frequently. “Hey, what’s up Glenn? How you are doing, man?” I looked over at the smiling frat-boy-looking kid with diamond earrings, and replied, “Oh hey…man! I’m good, how are you?” He had introduced himself to me, at least, 6 times and I never remembered his name, intentionally. I actually found his multiple attempts at, some kind of friendship, begin to annoy me.

The most tiresomely friendly person ever. Annoyingly happy. Have you ever talked to the kind of person that just won’t take a hint? That was Mike. See, I had this identity I needed to uphold, an important façade, if you will. I was in the in the, “too cool and tattooed,” crowd and there was no room for a, self-proclaimed, ‘Typical preppy white kid from Austin, Texas.’ I had an image to uphold because that was my identity.

My outward appearance defined me.

I became increasingly more annoyed and equally disappointed every time he attempted to make some kind of connection with me, yet he persisted until I couldn’t, in good conscious, forget his name again.

One thing I always noticed about Mike was that he not only knew everyone’s, and I mean everyone’s, name; he was always meeting people and giving his downtime to others, which I thought was a little ridiculous; but it was just a failure on my end to comprehend or accept a solution, I thought unimportant, to my addiction.

I paid the price for it…again…and again.

After a period of time I got bored with, I misinterpreted as, participating in my recovery. In classic Glenn Smith style (repetitively), I decided I was fine and isolated myself from the outside world, recovery community included. I decided that my time was better spent getting laid, chasing money, watching Netflix, ‘roiding out’ and lifting, or just about anything else unrelated to recovery.

I was shown just how well that would work out, as if the historical data was insufficient, yet again when I began living in my bathroom full-time; testing the medical limitations of intravenous cocaine and heroin use on the human body and setting a new personal record in sleep deprivation.

Turns out that in my case, that God had a different plan for me; I fervently prayed, daily, to be put out of my misery and, in return, just continued to exist and survive, living in complete despair and hopelessness.

Back to Mike.

Mike would call me a few times a week to check in, usually after I had just been reignited with energy, and stay on the phone while he listened to a one-sided cocaine fueled rant that went on…and on. Important things, like how I was convinced that I was dying from an infectious disease, a thesis on recovery, and false promises of detoxing myself tomorrow.

Nevertheless, he was always there, persisting.

He made sure I knew I wasn’t alone and that he loved me, showing me help was available and he’d be there when I was ready. He would even come over and listen, patiently, while I was manically re-dosing every 20 minutes, as I mentioned above.

Finally, the day came when my soul had enough.

My soul couldn’t take it anymore and, true to his word, Mike was there. The addiction had ripped me in half and I was left in a complete state of, genuine, hopelessness when I concluded that it might be awhile before succumbing to a, much desired, fatal moment; and frankly that scared me more than detoxing and an attempt at contrary action.

Guess who answered their phone?

Joe actually laid by my side on my bed for an hour one morning, at 3 AM, in an attempt to calm me long enough to, hopefully, go to sleep. They made their concern, undeniably, clear without losing their patience with a seemingly lost cause. They demonstrated they loved me, unrelentingly and unconditionally, until I would, or could, love myself.

Trust me, when I casually imply or assert that, “I was a difficult person to love,” you can definitively assume that I’m being modest.

Turns out, Mike is a VERY pushy person.

After a challenging 2-week detox and the most discouragingly persistent opiate withdrawal I had ever experienced, I went to inpatient, which was, at the time, a block away from where I lived and acquired 90% of my drugs.

I was considered a high flight risk and was, under no circumstances, permitted to leave the property for any reason, ever. Mike was thoughtful enough to drop off nicotine products for me and I put together a few days clean; enough days where I felt at least 50% human again.

Definitely human enough for Mike to start badgering me, requesting that I go with him every Friday to a detox and bring some hope to those that needed it.

I was thrilled I had an alibi when he first asked since I was certain they would, “under no circumstances let me leave the property,” ever. Service work avoided with an excuse, selfish and unacceptable.

Service work avoided with a technicality, plausible that my heart was in the right place. There was no-fucking-way that the rehab was going to permit leaving, even for a detox, given my track record.

Once again, wrong, and a commitment to the detox was made between my preppy friend and me with, now an enforcement, from my treatment center.

I felt, particularly, unqualified to tell my story with my long-standing history of chronic relapse. In reality, I had an allergy to helping anyone unless it helped me and a soul-sickness of self-centeredness.

I couldn’t fathom helping others, let alone that it would be the missing link, paramount to ensuring my sobriety when all else failed.

I didn’t know what I was doing, but Mike certainly did.

I had pushed through the fundamental necessities thoroughly and swiftly for, what I perceived, was a mission to take concepts and ideas for myself in order to save my soul; but in reality, it was, unassumingly, to make me useful to the next man that needed it.

Giving the frosting away to someone who needed it was the only way to receive the cake back. I had acquired basic skills that could only reach a master level if I paid it forward; becoming the teacher that learns from the student.

This was a concept so foreign to me that I found myself regularly questioning its validity, despite the irreconcilable mound of data that said the, “Fuck you, what about me,” approach had been trudged, despairingly, for over a decade.

Nevertheless, I disregarded it, confidently trusting that my version of recovery had given me everything I needed.

“Mikey Boy” to the rescue; saving me from myself, again.

One Friday night at the detox at about 32 days sober, a guy from Oklahoma in the detox asked if I could walk him down the path I had gone, or was currently, still going down. My immediate thought was ‘fuck no,’ but noticing Mike was in ear shot and that his opinion of me might change I replied confidently, “Um…are you sure?”

He was sure, of course.

As Mike left earshot, in a last-ditch effort I thought of a plausible, but pathetic, justification that my accumulation clean days was insufficient but paused, recalling the subtlety of a command from the man helping me, “The man with 2 days can help the guy with 1.”

Begrudgingly, I accepted.

What I hadn’t realized, yet, was days abstinent was completely inconsequential to the quality of recovery and experience I possessed or my ability so share it; not to mention that in doing so, I would begin to experience, for the first time, an evolution in my own recovery, perception, and self-worth. Where I am today, in large part, is due to the two of them.

It mandated me into a commitment to help someone else.

Until the last attempt at recovery, I only had 2 desires on any given day. One was to return the complete shit show of active addiction or overindulge in self-centered desires. The kid from Oklahoma did for me what I couldn’t do for myself.

I now had a responsibility, a moral obligation, to help this man. I was, for once in my life, in a position to actually help someone else, effectively negating my longstanding justification for an inability to do anything for anyone else besides myself.

He got better and eventually moved back to Oklahoma…and my shackles of commitment were finally gone.

This was only momentarily cherished when I answered an incoming call from Mike.

“Hey Glenn, this is (insert name), and you’re going to help him.” Without a moment to decline, the phone had already been passed to (insert name) and I had no tactful way to tell (insert name) that I was a self-important, self-centered asshole that didn’t want to do it because I was, “too busy;” similar to the same way people that had helped me said they were, “too busy.”

When you’re selfish and self-centered at your core, it takes a while to understand concepts like this.

You stand in astonishment at the inconvenience of giving someone your time, freely. Then, as you decline, saying, “no, I’m busy,” as you turn around to leave to, simultaneously, receive help from someone else giving their time, freely, and no excuse that they’re “too busy.” They just make the time, because they value it, to help save your fucking life.

Mike knew this about me.

He knew I wasn’t going to be inclined to put my hand out at the time because I was still “too cool,” or, “too busy,” to be bothered. I hadn’t developed an ounce of humility, yet.

So, in classic Mike fashion, he did it for me.

That thinking has since left me and I have come to learn the value of being in a position to help others; this includes everyone, not just drug addicts.

All of those nights Mike listened to my incoherent cocaine induced dictations of bullshit recovery philosophies, patiently, from a man that had none; but knew all, citing a decade of misguided historical data, consecutive failures, and an inferiority complex.

Meanwhile, I’m a fucking mess on his last limb, delusional with the thought he’s there for the quality of my company and intellectual conversation. The reality is he was, humbly, displaying the gifts of patience, love, and tolerance that he’d received and understood he could not keep them for himself, in good conscience.

So, persistently and patiently, he listened to a man suffering from self-centeredness and delusions because he, not only knew what my hopelessness felt like; but it served as a reminder of what would become of him if he ever forgot.

He displayed his humility, not by telling me that I was a, “selfish and pity-seeking jerk-off that refused to do anything without immediate personal gain.”

Instead, he let me find out for myself through the actions he displayed. The miracle and wonder of the solution he had found showed through his actions until I got in enough pain to stop talking and act.

Then, when I stepped up to the plate and began to default to my normal behavior he, forcefully if necessary, helped me stay in a constant position to be helpful.

What was I going to do, say, “no,” to him? When had he ever said, “no,” to me?

When had he ever not been anything but a reliable friend of the rarest variety? When had he not been an example? I didn’t even give Mike the time of day when he, relentlessly, attempted to introduce himself until he, finally, inserted himself into my life. Which begs the question, “Where would I be today if Mike was, ‘too fuckin’ busy,’ to help me?”

His introductions are just like his desire to help, relentless.

Mike is younger than me by a few years, but he is one of the wisest men I have ever met in my life. He has characteristics and a charisma about him that I have always been fond of, except when I first met him.

He’s always helping others in silence and showing you rather than telling.

He is one of my “go-to” guys for advice. To this day, Mike still walks the walk the same way he did when I first met him, he still puts his hand, and he still pulls the switcheroo with me on the phone and I get the opportunity to help (insert name) down the same path that Mike and so many others have helped me on.

While I currently have a story of redemption to share with those that desire to listen, it might have never happened if Michael hadn’t paved the way for me. Many others have told and shown me these things, repetitively, but I could never see or hear what they were doing or saying because I wasn’t ready to watch and listen. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I tried to, in my own words, describe what I heard when I was ready to listen:

“What was once a futile quest to take ‘more,’ attempting to satisfy an infinite void of despair is now gratified with internal peace when I give back. It’s an absolute certainty and assurance that I have a moral obligation to meet in order to receive that peace.”

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