The Missing Piece

If it weren’t Mike asking me, I wouldn’t have considered it.

I’ve been happy to keep my two lives separate before then. My students knew Mr. Goodson and my recovery crew knew Mark, the man in recovery. For all I was considered, my two lives were like Rudyard Kipling’s East and West: “Never the twain shall meet.”

I had good reason for the ten years that these two versions of myself remained separate.

I mean, it’s one thing to admit complete defeat, it’s another, entirely different thing to admit to the very students you teach that you had to admit complete defeat in your life. 

A coincidence made it possible, of course. It’s seven in a row now in the series. But who’s counting?

Mike asked me to speak at our school’s senior retreat the week I would celebrate 10 years clean and sober. If there were ever time to bring my story to where I work, I knew that time had come. For years, I had not dipped that end of my quill in the company ink. But after starting a blog devoted to the miracles involved in simple sober living, I could have guessed that this talk was inevitable.

 

Camp Letts is beautiful, a wooded expanse on the bay, its grounds covered with cabins and trails.

An incredible place to reflect.

I prayed on the drive there. I prayed for the strength to be honest. These are students I’ve taught for four years or players I’ve coached for the same amount of time. I’ve spent more time with these young men in the last four years than I have my own siblings, my own mother and father.

In ten years time, I’m proud to say I’ve built a good reputation at the school. I’ve worked hard, often maniacally, because I love my job. I love teaching. It’s what made admitting I suffer from drug addiction and alcoholism so difficult a proposition. It’s much easier to reap the rewards of sobriety in my professional life without giving my sobriety credit. Teachers and coaches work hard to appear invincible, not as a matter of pride. It’s about self-preservation. Show weakness and teenagers will eat you alive.

But teachers also inspire. What is a teacher if he cannot move minds or stir souls? When Mike asked me to tell my story on their retreat, I knew it was the right thing to do.

 

The talk went well.

I led by telling them they would be the first people at the school to hear my story. The real story. The story behind the man they know as “Mr. Goodson” or “Coach.” I didn’t spare too many details in my recounting of things. Although I did have to be aware of my audience. I couldn’t forget that I would see these young men everyday until June with expectations for them to take their study of literature seriously. While I withheld some of the grisly details, I included the meat and the fat of the story.

I was nervous until the moment came. I paused, unable to form the words, “psychiatric hospital” and “drug-Induced psychosis.” I took a breath. It was the answer to my prayers. God took the wheel. When the words came, I knew I didn’t have to worry anymore. The hard part was over.

The talk wasn’t recorded. No one took photos to my knowledge either. And I’m glad about that. Knowing my audience includes the freedom to share with my students details about my upbringing and life I can’t post publically. As I told them, it was a version of my story I’ve never told to anyone before.

My faith steadied my hands and voice. I delivered the truth.

Now they know “Mr. Goodson” a little better. And being known better, I become a better teacher, and a man closer to God, who is, I believe, in the truth and in the freedom truth brings.

 

WIth ten years sober and all the dirty laundry aired, I feel as though I’ve only begun the next phase of my journey.

I used to have conversations with my friend Joe about the bizarre nature of being two different people. One was the Mr. Goodson who everyone knew has far too much to say about books and shows up to work on time each Monday. The other was the man who survived a psychotic break in a dustbowl Mexican town.

“It’s one person,” Joe told me often. “They are the same guy.”

“But they really aren’t.”

“How so?”

“Well, the one can’t acknowledge the other and still do his job.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because the other would, like, fall apart if he did.”

“But the teacher and the coach can’t survive without the crazy gringo. The crazy gringo allowed the teacher and coach to exist.”

I tried to explain to my friend that I have one at a distance from the other, and that distance lets the whole thing continue to work.

Joe didn’t relent. “They are the same person,” he kept telling me.

I know some good Joes. There’s this one that helped me believe I could unite these two selves in my life, and there is the Joe who delivered me from Mexico to a hospital in San Diego, saving my life 10 years ago.

And now I understand what Joe was talking about. At least, I’m closer to understanding. I believe that what the Buddhists call Nirvana is a space where our identity is wholly in sync with the universe and the moral law of God. A personal belief, here. Don’t quote me. I’ve never approached Nirvana with crossed legs and fingers pinched while perched upon a mountain top. But on the drive home that day, after explaining to my students exactly who I am and why I do what I do, I felt a rush of glee. I felt bliss.

 

I know it was a special moment.

And now that the silence is broken, that moment will not be able to be recreated. I hope to have more opportunities to share my story with the student body. I hope, in a novel and my writing, to share my stories with as many as are willing to read or hear them. But I’ll never forget that morning.

I’ll never be the same. It is a good thing. Because I am forever changed form that morning, I can guarantee that they will be forever changed from it too. I couldn’t guarantee that if I walked out of there, having shared some watered down or censored or fantasized version of my life.

That sort of transformation is reserved for matters of truth.

 

 

10 Responses to “The Missing Piece

  • Great story Mark. I’m sure they got a lot out of it with your true honesty. What a great teacher you must be to your students. Great article.

    • Thanks Patrick.

      So I’ve been slowly sort of gauging their reactions to things. No one has approached me directly about it yet. But they say hello to me and participate much more enthusiastically than they used to. That has to be a good sign right?

      Take care,

      Mark

  • Sometimes God speaks to us through our friends. Iron sharpens iron!

  • Oh, to have been there.
    I expect you touched a few students with your words. And that will change things for them. No one will ever know how, but it will.

    Those moment where we know deep down that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be are very profound. And it took the addiction and the psychotic break to get there.

    Thank you for sharing that. My heart is full.
    Anne

    • Thanks Anne for reflecting on the post like that.

      I hope you’re right. I had such a good feeling after finishing the talk that I think they were moved. Even if it’s just a few, like you said.

  • I am so blessed by your writings and teachings. How inspiring that must have been to those kids!
    Much Love,
    Wendy

  • Courage and grace, they accompany you Mark.

  • If only each one of us had someone like you in our early years…. the tender, impressionable years. Thank you for showing us the way- for being an amazing example of what it means to be “real”.

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