Basically, I’ve been like a prep-cook getting all the ingredients ready for a masterpiece meal. I’ve been gathering the necessary pieces and planning the meal. But, the thing, I thought I was already the Chef. I’ve lived as though I am in control of the meals for which I prepare and that these things I do are the kitchen I run. Life, though, has a way of presenting reality in such a way as to make me see that I am little more than a cog in a very large machine.
I hold Master’s in Education, am a licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and Continuing Education provider. I’ve taught all over Northern New Mexico. I’ve written and published books, which was what I had set out to become when I was still a Chicano kid in the barrio: A published writer.
Through my teaching and writing life, I have gotten to see, firsthand, the unhealthy place my beloved homeland had become. Drug and alcohol addiction has ravaged my people and I’ve done all that I could to teach better ways to live. Really, I left the barrio, but the barrio never left me. Quite a few of my own homeboys have ended up trapped in the shackles that the disease of addiction that wraps around its victim’s souls. But, long before I became a teacher and an “educated man,” I struggled with my own split and conflicted self. I spent many days trapped in a type of survivor’s guilt that prevented me from engaging directly with life. Instead, I harbored hatred and anger and shame, not for the world outside, but for simply being alive.
And so that even though I fought my way to an education, my life was always filtered through some form of bad juju or another. Plus, even though I was teaching, I didn’t realize just how little I was engaged with those whom I taught. It was like I wore my education like a protective suit of armor and not as a set of tools and weapons to use with people, engaged in our collective struggle. I can sometimes forget that my education and training does not set me apart from anyone: I survived my circumstances to engage in the struggle of which WE ALL are a part.
I received a reminder the other day that, though I am an educated man, I am no different or better than anyone else. Someone with whom I was having a conversation started crying. She was looking to me for answers, or at least, for some sign of relief from the questions about addiction tormenting her. There was some anger in her voice, as she wanted me, in all of my training, to provide some hope. The truth was and is: Recovery takes time and there’s no magic bullet or elixir that can wipe it away. Nothing in my training or education can provide anything more than a little more facts and figures. Recovery from anything takes dedicated engagement.
So, though I comforted the woman with whom I spoke as best I could, I realized that I will never be anyone’s Chef. The best I could ever offer is the prep work. The actual meal of someone’s life has to be ultimately planned, cooked, and served in his or her own way. I am a prep cook providing the tools to get started, but YOU are the Chef in your own life’s kitchen. I am a resource to help get things together and I will be with you throughout your process, but I am no better and I do not have more than anyone has in their own souls.