I live in Vancouver, BC. Vancouver is a amazing city. I am truly a fortunate person be to living here. Like most cities, Vancouver has its skid row. The area is sometimes referred to as the Downtown Eastside, but the specific area ‘skid row’ refers to is the strip along Hastings that begins at Main and Hastings and spreads on either side. It’s a place where the most impoverished and troubled people of Vancouver tend to collect, and drug use open and rampant. I love to visit the area by walking or riding my bike through its many alleys. I love doing it because it brings my humanity into focus and it allows me to face my anxiety around survival. I have developed more compassion for myself as well as others through these experiences. It also helps me to recognize the equality to all of mankind, no matter what each person’s circumstances are. I see the pain in the people addicted to drugs, and I see my own pain that grows from addictions in my life, though they aren’t substance based. I used to be addicted to my emotional pain and I attempted to alleviate it by playing more than 60 golf games a year when I really did not like golf. Or playing poker once or twice a week when I really did not like poker. Or watching hours of TV or drinking alcohol or…..My addictions were a distraction, that allowed me to ignore the deep pain I felt. If I kept busy on the surface, removed from my interior life, then I wouldn’t have to face these larger problems. I realize that we all have addictions, though some are more socially acceptable than others. Although I may not risk my body as readily as a drug user, my actions are never the less harmful to my wellbeing. I now realize that all addictions including drinking, smoking and gambling will slow everyone down and take years off our lives in many ways.
When I visit skid row, I see people barely surviving. I often see people passed out with needles hanging out of their arms. They were so stoned they did not have time to pull the needle out after injection. Once I saw a woman like that, passed out, needle in her arm and 8 months pregnant. Her boyfriend was lying on top of her barely awake, cuddling her stomach as if to hold the unborn baby. My heart went out to that unborn baby. I asked myself many questions; What is going to happen in the womb to cause the baby to struggle for a lifetime? What is going to happen after birth when the child is born in a world of drugs and poverty? How much pain will this baby endure during its lifetime through no fault of its own? What did an unborn child do to deserve such a start? Can these adults do something now to give the baby a better chance and what would it take for them to realize the seriousness of their situation? After I reflected on these questions I realized that my childhood was also a challenge. I was born to young parents who did not want a child so I was rejected from the moment of conception. I was also born in a war zone, apartheid South Africa and I was brown. Being brown meant a life of shame and inequality. Like that woman’s baby, I was behind the eighth ball before I was born. It was going to be a struggle. I had to fight to survive. That was my journey. And fortunately I was born a fighter.
At home my father used his fists to knock me down early on in life. The last time he did it was when I was 18. That time I fought back for the first time and knocked the jackass on his ass. Then I left home for good. The fantasy of belonging to a family was eliminated. Prior to that event at age 18, when my father knocked me down, I always got up immediately. I did not want him to crush me. I needed to remain standing. I learned to get up quickly and powerfully when knocked down. That was going to be a great life skill as a grown man. I became my own Rocky. Yo, knock me down and I am just getting up man. I will keep coming man.
Life outside the home as a boy in South Africa was tough. Street fighting was a part of my life. I had to tough it out. I would not let myself be bullied. Crumble and I would be lost for a lifetime. I thought I would then become a victim and a weak man. So for me, outside the home was tough and inside the home was tough. I had to learn how to survive. I decided to not back down. I did not want to lay there on the floor or the street a beaten boy. Something in me decided to fight and I feel that something is my soul. My soul has a purpose and I had to make it. That fight is still in me today.
The problem with a survival strategy is that I succeeded in the physical sense, but I struggled in the emotional part of life. I shut down my feelings. I had to. Being rejected by my family and society would have been too much for me if I allowed myself to truly feel as a child. The problem with this strategy is that as an adult when survival was no longer an issue, the old mechanisms I used to keep my feelings at bay continued. And when I shut my emotional side down, addictions became my way of alleviating my pain and distracting myself from my issues. The golf and the poker and the drinking etc were an incredibly poor way of attempting to heal myself. It was merely postponing death. I was never really alive back then.
I had to learn to revive, feel and heal myself in order to truly live. My journey inwards as an adult was crucial!!! Without discovering why my childhood survival mechanisms were holding me back as an adult, I would continue to live a life of pain and mediocrity, a life of many addictions to solve the pain, a life of regret. Where are you using addictions to solve your pain? These addictions only give us a short-term gain. The practice leads to long-term pain and a life of regret. Take the journey inwards and live a powerful life. Take a walk into your skid row and discover your own humanity, your greatness and power.