The Drifter in All of Us

You know something odd that I have seemed to notice the more time I grow into sobriety? The way that people define themselves, how they portray that image they are attempting to convey to the world while hiding the identity being pushed down inside. For a super obvious example, the guy in high school that beats the shit out of feminine males and openly gay people while deep down harboring an intense sexual attraction to fellow males but his daddy's a man's man and that shit doesn't fly in the south. Like I said, an obvious example, but that way you can pick up what I'm putting down.

I mean that's not to say I never noticed it before, like somehow in the 24/7 stupor that was a decade of my life, I just missed all these signs, I did them too. My favorite thing was going to a bar I didn't normally frequent and lay out an entire life that wasn't mine, just one that I dreamed of and the people always seemed to believe whatever I told them because why wouldn't they? They had never met me and I included enough convincing details to assure them this was real. Derek the drifter was my favorite tall-tale, that I was from Ebbing, Missouri and basically lived my life as a freelance writer and nomad, going from city to city, big and small, chronicling the lives of those I had met there. It was a wondrous story, one I crafted and added too as much as possible and with each consecutive sip of bourbon, my experiences and tribulations became more grandiose. I just couldn't help myself, they were all so interested, every last Billy and Nick and Lee and Amanda I met, they couldn't get enough of it. But then the reality would set in, because I'd get comfortable and thus sloppy; my story would slowly unravel and plot holes opened like tectonic plate shifts during an earthquake. And once again, it was time to disappear back into the unknown leaving them only with the idea of myself I painted in their minds. No more visits, no more Derek the drifter, only Derek the apparition.

When the day came that I actually did finally leave Cleveland for a change of scenery, it came with an actual move and a factual statement when I said to people I wasn't from there. Philadelphia was a weird time for me, it was a big city, bigger than Cleveland but less loyalty to roots and basically a slum ground for people from far and wide. Maybe 1/3rd of the people I met there had actually grew up there, the rest were just like me, moved from some smaller town in search of a bigger destination. I went out there for a job I took out of desperation, a job I quickly despised and hated even more so by the time I unpacking my things in an empty apartment. I won't mention the company but let's just say if they were in the business of making happiness, they needed some more coursework in how to actually do that. Needless to say, I found myself surrounded by more than a million people and didn't know a single soul. Here there wasn't girls I had crushes on in high school, who had known me as some weed-smoking douche-bag and none of my family to reel me in from any damage I might cause, here I was free to do bad all on my own. Fuck you Garden of Eden, hello to Sodom and Gomorrah, my new home.

God, was it, ugh, it was so surreal, you could tell anyone of them anything you wanted, that you're some ex-con or that you worked for Smirnoff or that you just here to see what Philly was like, because back home was a jungle. Derek the drifter became this almost nostalgic part of my circle of friends there, that I used to write in Italy and I had these tattoos done in Germany when I was on assignment for the New York Times and every single fragment of this person I was molding was exactly who I wanted to be - some day. But for today, I wanted to have some drinks and relax. That drink plowed me through so much of the turmoil I brought upon myself but I just didn't care and couldn't see. It wasn't until I finally got sober that I actually felt a massive weight lift from my shoulders, fuck, it wasn't until I got sober that I even realized there was a weight on my shoulders. All those people who hated my fucking guts and I could never understand why, I finally got it. It didn't piss me off so much, it just became, clear.

So, as I kind of began re-learning myself I also started to learn other people so incredibly well but without them really knowing. Like for instance, I had this friend as a teenager, this gorgeous, wildly hilarious blonde-haired, tattooed friend, we'll call her Jane. We shared everything with each other, so many endless nights we would sit in my old truck talking about nothing and I really thought I knew her. Well, naturally during my drinking phase, I showed up to one of her birthday parties sloppy trashed and making an ass of myself, and honestly, I'm not quite sure all that happened, but I'm sure I acted like an asshole and I know she never forgave me for whatever it was I said or did, no matter how many apologies I tried making. Years later, I come to find out that her hatred for substance abuse was actually a bit hypocritical and she had been dealing with issues of her own. That feeling I carried for so many years of thinking she was this selfish bitch for casting me out due to my addictions, instantly vanished, because I realized she was doing what addicts do, cast blame and not face themselves. I'm sure she's still mad and she probably always will be, but there's nothing more I can do and honestly, I just hope she finds her way back to that beautiful person she was when we met.

All people lie about some aspect of their own lives, cast their problems on others to shield themselves from the mirror, whether they're sober or actively addicted, or just normal people that can have whiskey with dinner, instead of whiskey for dinner. We humans are innocuously selfish creatures that hide that huge facet of our chemical makeup in mannerisms big and small, from donating to a charity to adopting a dog to becoming presidents and kings and queens and chancellors of our countries, with this image we want everyone to believe that we are that rare, good gem among a sea of coal. I'm not saying every person is awful, although I think most probably are, but I'm saying everyone portrays the image of who they want to be most, out to the world, without showing purposely who they actually may be. Some do it in far more extravagant ways than others and not every drunk in the bar is a fictional freelance nomad writer, but people never tell who they really are at their core. It's the deepest, darkest secret any one person holds and it's up to you as your own person, to think of them when you inevitably discover it.

That my friends, is The Word of the day.

Sinner Like Me now available on Amazon in print and digital, tell your parents!


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