Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fighting our "Demons".

    "They are fighting their demons." is an expression that I have been hearing more and more of in relative recent years. I first heard this statement, which at the time I did not understand, in a waiting room at Orlando Regional Hospital, in Orlando, Florida. Michael, (not his real name) was further down the hall, in another room filled with medical machinery and apparatus, all of which were assisting him to breathe and exist. Michael was in a coma.  Some of Michael's immediate family, his girlfriend, and a smattering of friends and acquaintance were all sitting in the waiting room.  We conversed quietly, while still trying to absorb the shocking events that had just transpired.

    Michael was in a coma as a brutal and deadly beating had been inflicted upon him right outside of a store that sells alcohol. There had been a prior exchange of words between Michael and another person inside the store. The confrontation escalated outside of the store, and the other man went to his car, retrieved a baseball bat, felled the over six feet tall Michael by knocking him behind the knees, and then proceeded to beat him senseless. Michael lay there on the pavement, and according to sources, people were literally stepping over him as he bled profusely on the pavement. It was gleaned from reports that Michael lay there for approximately half an hour until someone called the police, and the paramedics arrived.  It is doubtful if Michael could have been saved had the paramedics been called earlier. According to medical reports his brain had been irreparably damaged.

    It was now my turn to go and visit or rather look at the patient, and I did. There was a nurse in the unit, doing the things that nurses do; checking the equipment, ensuring that Michael was hooked to all of the necessary monitors, as well as keeping an eye on the monitors. I have read often enough that it is possible for someone in a coma to actually hear if they are spoken to. I spoke to Michael. For the first time he did not argue with me. He would not have needed to anyway, for I was not playing my usual role of "telling it like it is." That alone was chilling. Without knowing at that time that Michael's brain had been badly damaged; I  did realize that arguing, explaining, pleading, and debating the harm he was doing to his loved ones were all conversations that would no longer be necessary. I prayed to God for Michael and hopefully with Michael. I also told Michael that his ex-wife and son were in the waiting room, and that his girlfriend had come, but had left to return.  As I talked, and as I kept silent, I looked at Michael. I saw the marks on his knees where he had been hit until he fell to the ground to receive the beating that put him in this cold room. His head and face were swollen, contorted, beaten, and there was obvious trauma to his head and face. However, there was no indication that any brain damage had occurred and his face did not look much worse than some of those of boxers that one sees on television.  

    During one of our past conversations, Michael had told me that when he got drunk, he was a mean drunk. He never acknowledged the use of any other substance, and I never asked him about any. We both knew that while alcohol may have started the decline, it was not the only enemy that had conquered him. I do believe that at the time of this beating incident, alcohol was the main enemy that Michael was battling, even though it may have not been the only enemy.

    I had met Michael when he was supposedly pulling himself up from a steady but certain downhill decline. He had a couple of true friends who were attempting to provide him with inspiration and help. Help came in the form of employment and advice. I joined the 'Advice Team'. The other members knew the drill, and knew that Michael was not even kidding himself. As the reality of the ugliness of the situation became more and more apparent, my advice became uglier but also more realistic.

    Michael had laughed at me one day. He showed up in a second hand car which he had purchased. It was a good feeling to see that he had actually put aside some money, and now had a responsibility if it was only to put gas in the car. Then Michael showed up without the car. Driving while intoxicated, and with an open bottle of alcohol on the seat beside him had caused him to lose license and car. "Oh I have learnt my lesson now" he told me.
     "Sure Michael", I told him, "in the short space of time I have known you, you have learnt your lesson now so many times. Your problem is you do not see the lesson that you need to learn. All along you have had people to bail you out of each and every problem, and to put a roof over your head, and food on your plate. You neither see the lesson nor the need to find what the lesson is. You, like most people in your position, have to hit rock bottom until you can realize you need to figure out what the lesson is, learn it, and begin your climb back up".
    "And how will I know I have reached rock bottom?" Michael asked in a sarcastic manner." Maybe I am at rock bottom now".
    "No" I told him. "You will know when you have hit rock bottom because you will realize you do not have any keys. It will not be that you lost your keys; it will be that you do not have any keys at all. A man with no keys and no access to keys has nowhere to go, and then he has hit rock bottom".   Michael laughed and laughed. "No keys, how can a man have no keys? You crack me up" he said.

    It was a week later I saw Michael. He was not looking too confident that day, and he kept his eyes to the ground. He told me that he had hit rock bottom as he did not have any keys. His girlfriend had taken away his keys. Then he told me that he could still stay at her house with her, but he had to knock to be let in, and he had a curfew to meet or he would not be let in. It took me some time to realize that Michael was looking for sympathy. I told him that he had not hit rock bottom yet, for he still had keys. As long as he knocked on his lady's door on time, he could go in. He still had access to her home, and thus he still had a key. Michael told me I was mean, and did not understand. I told him that he still had too many keys. He was using manipulations to evoke sympathy as a key, as well as his hard luck story and his "I am at rock bottom so now believe that I am going to get it together" story as a key to try and unlock something from his friends, from me, from a stranger in the street, from  anyone. I told him he still had too many keys.

    Michael got arrested again a couple of weeks after that conversation. He called his friends, and then he called everyone he knew looking for a way to be bailed out so he could go to work. He never went back to work. I do not know what the offense was, but it was alcohol related. Michael had received many breaks. The Judge sentenced Michael to perform community service in the form of manual labor. Michael would take the bus to wherever he had to perform his hours, and then take the bus back to where he lived. It turns out that the bus stop that he got off at was across the street from the liquor store. Did he cross the street every evening, or did he go home? No one knows except Michael. However, that one particular evening he did cross the street and changed so much permanently.

    Michael's ex-wife kept her vigil at the hospital. Making conversation with me, she told me that Michael had been fighting his demons for a long time. His abuse of substances had eventually destroyed their marriage. When Michael was younger, his ex-wife told me, he had a promising future in basketball. However, he was injured, and so that did not pan out. Michael did finish college, and went on to further studies and became a man with a profession.  Michael had also joined the army. He was a Veteran and throughout his entire time of fighting his demons, he was entitled to all of the medical and rehabilitative benefits that Veterans are entitled to.

    The next day I learned that it had been medically determined that Michael was now officially brain dead, and although he could breathe on his own without the aid of a respirator, he would not be able to do so for long. His family began trickling in from the different parts of the country. Michael was taken off of the respirator, and he breathed on his own for approximately a day. Then, Michael passed away.  Michael was finally free of his demons.

    I attended Michael's funeral, and so did many people. His prior professional peers, family, and friends all came out in the rain to pay their final respects. Michael was given a traditional Veteran's Salute. A chilling round of sounds. Gone were the self-inflicted demons of the mind. Gone were the addictions that had controlled and ruined Michael's life, and certainly had a devastating impact on his family and loved ones.   Michael had once achieved so much, and he had painfully destroyed it all, burdening others with the effects of the downward spiral he had started years ago.  Now Michael was at peace, and his family and loved ones would begin their healing process.

    Approximately a year after Michael's funeral, I got a lovely surprise in the mail. I had been invited to the high school graduation of Michael's son. Of course I attended. It was a lovely ceremony, and I was so proud of Michael Junior. He certainly had not copped out of life despite the circumstances beyond his control that had affected him. To the contrary, I got a sense that he had been strengthened by his experiences. His family looked exceptionally healthy and happy, and they were excitedly telling me of Michael Junior's college plans.

    "Demons" are a product of troubled minds. Life's circumstances, poor choices, the inability to say "No", and a wide range of factors lead to the anxiety, angst, and anguish that lead to troubled minds.  The punishment experienced from "one's demons" must be extremely painful in order to make someone want to drown them in alcohol or numb them with drugs. Addictions and "demons" are both cravings and horrors of the mind. However, one must make that initial step to first take the addictive substance. Where in our minds is the "Off" switch that we ignore when we make poor choices?

    One would think that a man like Michael who had accomplished so much would have had a stronger mind, and would have been able to resist peer pressure, troubling times, or temporary hardships. A man of strong physical appearance with a solid professional education, who possessed the strength and discipline of military training, and also had a great professional career just does not fit the profile one would expect of someone with a weak and troubled mind. Yet, one could look in Michael's eyes and see the anguish of pain, along with his constant inner conflict entwined with the learned survival instinct to manipulate. All of Michael's "demons" were visible if one got the opportunity to look directly into his eyes.

    At Michael Junior's high school graduation there was much happiness, elation, and excitement about the potential for a bright future for this strong young man. I got the opportunity to look Michael Junior directly in the eyes.

    I smiled.

    No "demons" there.

    Thank you God.

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