The impact of drugs, alcohol and mental illness started when I was a child, because of my mother and father. In fact my family was a rather happy, festive group, that on any occasion would gather to cook, drink and whatever else I could not see as a young 5 or 6 year old. By the time I was 10 or 11, I along with other cousins would experiment or model their behavior of drinking and smoking, even if we didn't know the full impact of our actions. When my Mother suffered a major nervous breakdown and was sent to the Texas Mental Institution, it was then that my using drugs at the age of 13 took a more serious turn to deal with my own pain and loss. My Father was always rather abusive and drank or smoked weed. It was also at 13 when he put me out of the house and I stayed with my Grandmother until I joined the US Air Force. From the age of 13, I smoked weed, dropped uppers and downers and drank syrup until the age of 16 years old. All the while, I was involved in sports, working and missing my beloved mother, who stayed in and out of the mental institution. At the age of 16, I started using Heroin and my addiction turned into a nightmare. Little did I realize how heroin turns your life upside down, I thought, and used it more often than other members in our crew, yet I still maintained some sense of normalcy.
At the age of 18, I was a high school graduate with only one goal after getting a job after High School, to get a car, party and use drugs to the max. Little did I realize the party would not last long, because the effects of drug use made me lose my job, which then lead to losing my apartment and then my car. In desperation, like most drug addicts I turned to the streets and the unknown of crime, selling drugs or whatever means could keep me supplied with my Heroin and other drugs. I was a Junkie and still in denial. I thought to myself that’s not how your life is to be at 19 years old, but yet I was a drug addict. My brother had been in and out of the prison system since he was 15 and I knew that environment would not work for me, yet as I got deeper into the underworld of drugs and the culture of crime which feeds it, I almost got busted on one or two occasions. The last time that I would have gotten busted, I knew I would get caught in the system and thus I joined the United States Air Force, during what was considered the Vietnam Era.
It was 1971, I thought the Vietnam war over, so this would be a good time to leave Texas and the USA behind; little did I know that you can never leave yourself or what you are by putting on a uniform or just jumping on a plane to go half way around the world. There I was past basic training and clean, into technical school and still clean and I knew that I would be on my way to stability or might I say a solid life in the military. Little did I realize that my first assignment to Clark AFB in the Philippines would bring me back to a world of drugs, war and addiction on heroin. My first night in the PI, I found weed laced with opium, syrup as thick as honey and 99% pure heroin, made in China. In less than two days on the island, I was hooked all over again and I also knew I was in deep trouble. My first rotation as a medical service specialist was for air evacuation service at the hospital, the first C 141 flying hospital plane that pulled up and opened its doors with the carnage of war made me fall deeper into drugs. I had never seen up close, arms and legs blown off; soldiers full of morphine destined to die before they got off the Island; I had never seen bodies twisted, wounds that even if they healed would leave a life of scars. My nightmares started the day I saw and heard the first soldier, die during my shift after looking into his face only minutes before he died. The horror of war made my addiction increase from personal satisfaction to self-medicated need, because every other day a new plane arrived with more bodies, barely alive and I was supposed to do what; tend to them prior to their death, I had become an angel of death.
I fell into a deeper depression and lost a good friend from overdose on the island, a full fledged dope addict; a friend that was from New York and my being from Texas said we were going to get off this Island and get back home if we watched out for each other. When he died from a drug overdose, and I tried to use my medic skills to save him, it was too late and I got busted. Depressed, facing a dis-honorable discharge and then the most obvious thing I could think of was to kill myself. Death had been on my hands, it was in my mind and death appeared to look bright in comparison to what I was facing and going to face for violating the military rules, my family rules and myself. I tried to kill myself, I tried to commit suicide not once but twice by drug overdose on 99% pure heroin, I considered it one last celebration. One problem, fate got me first in that I ended up in a treatment program on the base, no it was a detox program because the Air Force was beginning to recognize an increase of drug problems on the island.
My journey back started when I called home to tell my recently released Mother from the State Mental Institution, that I loved her and I just wanted her to tell me that she loved me back. My request from 7,000 miles did not get answered, in fact all I heard her say while running and crying, after dropping the phone was Robert was in trouble and she was going to tell my Grandmothers. I knew I was in greater trouble, because my Grandmothers (Other Mama and BoBo) were from the country, I don't think they got past the 5th grade, but they were known throughout the community for their ability to "Pray" or for their "Power in Prayer". Even as a child attending Church with them, it was always Praying, Singing, Shouting, Preaching and Church. Church, Church, Church...Praying, Singing, Bible Study, Church, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, the Lord said this or the Lord said that, I had been in the Church since I was a child, who was this Lord, most times I went so I would be the first one to get fed Grandmothers delicious soul food, man I am talking good Soul food. I would follow my Grandmothers anywhere as a Child, to get that food; little did I realize what this business of Prayer was all about. They Prayed for me, while I was in the hospital room, I know they Prayed, cause the words of a Sunday School teacher came to me while I was trying to figure out how to kill myself one last time. It was like a dream, the Sunday School teacher shouting, "If you ever get in Trouble?...If you ever get in Trouble?...If you ever get in Trouble?...You can always call on Jesus". I was in trouble, I thought I was having an episode, but I heard the Sunday School teachers voice again and I called on Jesus. I said, well Lord I have heard you from my Grandmothers and I joined the Church when I was 9 years old, but now I am really in trouble, 7,000 miles from home, addicted, about to get a dis-honorable discharge. I am calling the name of Jesus. If you just help me, then I will do what you tell me to do,
It seemed as if the dream continued. I found myself on a C 141, wounded, but headed home to Texas to a "Special Treatment" program for Airmen that wanted or needed another chance. When I walked off that plane in San Antonio, Texas, I fell to the ground and kissed the tarmac and shouted, "Its A Blessing". It's A Blessing, is what folks have heard me say every time they have seen me or ask me how I am doing. I say "Its A Blessing". It was a Blessing for me to be back in Texas, back home and close to my family and a Blessing to have another chance. I would not fail this time, I would not make an excuse to find out what was bothering me. I would not miss a chance to tell my mother in her face, I loved her. I would not miss a chance to look at my beloved Grandmothers and ask them to "Pray for Me".
I went through the Special Treatment program, I stayed an extra week just to get some deeper issues out from my past. I cried. I laughed. I was thankful that the United States Air Force gave me one more chance to be a Soldier. I was thankful that OI entered basic training for the Lord as well, my life would never be the same. After finishing the Special Treatment program in 1974, I finished my tour of duty in 1975 with an Honorable Discharge, as a Sgt. I was going to school in Houston. I was going to prove to myself first and then to my family, their Prayers, Love and Faith would not be in vain. I completed 5 academic degrees from Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, the Houston Graduate School of Theology. I am a National Certified Counselor in all 50 States; I have traveled across the United States to tell my story and to say to folks, "Its A Blessing". I have buried my Grandmothers. I have buried my Father and my Mother, but I am still saying "Its A Blessing". I have gone through a divorce, but now I am remarried. "Its A Blessing". I have 2 Sons and 2 Grandsons and a host of relatives, friends and foes. "Its A Blessing". I wrote a book over 20 years ago, "A True Story: Hope After Dope, From A Drug Addict to A Doctor", it’s now online and free at http://www.hopeafter.org/home/ for anybody who might need to read or understand the issues or problems associated with Substance Abuse and Mental Illness. "Its A Blessing".
I can only tell my story, or as they say as a Preacher for over 30 years now, testify as to how good God has been to me, you have to remember that I called on Jesus and was rescued, I have been running ever since and I have tried him for myself. I have been up sometimes and down sometimes, but I have always held on to God’s un-changing hand. I have been to countless meetings to understand myself, understand others and understand the world. But one thing I have not done is gone back to drugs or used drugs as an excuse to not deal with myself or things I don't understand.
I can leave this with anybody that is trying to understand addiction or mental illness: sometimes you just got to go through the storm; but you always remember the storm is passing through; it might wreck your house, turn your life upside down, but one day it’s gone. I went through a storm, if you live long enough, a storm will come through your life, your family, mind, your spirit. Just don't forget the Sunday School teacher, "If you ever get in Trouble....you can always call on Jesus." Then watch what happens, you might find treatment, education, healing, hope, Love. It's A Blessing.