Thirty-seven months of June have come and gone since I graduated from High School at the tender age of eighteen. While surfing the internet yesterday, I came across a website about my old High School and reading the information and looking at the pictures was like a combination of chewing glass and petting a kitten. Many memories came flooding over me with feelings from joy to grieve, to horror!
I was the biggest guy in my graduating class; however, I was scared to death of rejection, that the other kids wouldn’t like me or accept me; worst of all, I was afraid they would make fun of me! I was on the outskirts of all the clicks, but not really in any of them. I didn’t let anyone in, no one really knew me, not one other soul. I skipped more classes then I attended in one of the best High Schools in the country. I never opened a book, didn’t do any homework and just skated through with a seventy-seven GPA. That GPA is amazing when you consider that I didn’t do anything in school except for sports.
My senior year, my guidance counselor, who was a Hell of a nice guy, let me go on a work study because I was short a few credits to graduate. The work study would give me the extra credits that I needed to graduate with my class. The thing is, the work was as a bartender at night at the local pub! The drinking age was eighteen and I was eighteen. The poor guidance counselor took a lot of flak for letting me do that, when they found out I was bartending as a High School senior on a work study.
I graduated with my class, and in fact hosted the graduation party of all parties for the senior class! They are probably still talking about that graduation bash! I remember the day of graduation and how excited I was about life, getting a career, finding love, making lots of money, and all of that good stuff. Life didn’t go the way that I thought it would. The truth is, I’m still trying to figure out if I’m a success or a failure?
I couldn’t believe it when I was surfing the net yesterday and I saw my old friend Paul was still coaching at the school. He was the lightweight and I was the heavyweight on the varsity wrestling team all four years of High school. He was a killer on the mat; he won all kinds of matches and titles over the years, I wasn’t nearly as good. After we graduated, I ended up being the varsity wrestling coach and hosting the county championship tournament at our school. After I left, I guess Paul took over and has done a great job for all these years. I don’t know why, but we lost touch decades ago.
Then I saw a picture of my old friend Lori, who I haven’t seen in many years. I was reading the news clipping and realized it was her obituary, she had recently died. I felt like I couldn’t breathe for a minute, Lori was dead! I looked further and found out a few more classmates had also died, so sad. I never went to any of the reunions. The truth is, I never received any flyers or invitations. I have lived a complicated life. I don’t think anyone tried very hard to find me!
It’s really amazing that I never felt good enough! My dad was the superintendent on a millionaire’s estate in one of the wealthiest little towns on the planet. The problem was, we weren’t wealthy. When all my friends left for their ivy league colleges, I went to work as a civil servant. I became an alcoholic, a periodic binge drinker who blacked out. I was always very against drugs; however, in my mid-twenties I started to experiment with cocaine at a New Year’s Eve party in some bathroom with a girl named Amy. It was an odd experience because I was a police officer at the time, although, I never used on the job.
I started to take some college classes at a local community college and actually showed up and studied. My GPA was a 4.0 and I made Dean’s List every semester. I was a good coach and referee but because of addiction I stopped showing up and then shame robbed me of two things that I loved in my life. I let a lot of people down back then especially the kids. After several years, I resigned from the force because of alcoholism. I had nightmares for years where I was trying to get back on the force. It broke my heart giving up that job. I lost the few friends I had when I became a cop and the others from my drinking. None of my relationships worked out, addiction ruined them too.
After a bad car accident in 1996 I got sober for good. Someone else was hurt in the accident so I had to pay my dues for that. I became a licensed and Ordained Reverend, was the co-founder of a residential ministry to help people with addictions; I served there for twenty years. I was blessed to help change and save many lives from the grips of addiction. I started to weight train and got into competitive powerlifting. I ended up winning a bunch of competitions, the state championship a bunch of times, the National championship nine times, and the World Championships twice. My most valued trophy was the best bench press at Nationals one year. I still hold a few records.
I went back to college finished my associates, got my BS, MS, Doctorate, and Ph.D. I’m a certified Interventionist, Pastoral counselor and Christian Therapist, Master Coach and Trainer, a Best-Selling Author and Award-Winning poet with almost thirty published books, thousands of articles and hundreds of poems published around the globe, and an Associate Professor. I opened a coffee roasting company and café with a partner back when the economy turned bad, so this beautiful café went under.
My mom died, leaving my dad and I with the ministry to run, then both of us had surgeries and medical issues. We both ended up in wheelchairs and had several medical issues to deal with. There was a fire at the ministry and we didn’t have the staff or funds to continue. Dad went into a nursing home and I moved into a small apartment.
I looked at the fresh young faces that just graduated and I got tears in my eyes, remembering how excited we all were so many years ago. I’m envious of their youth, their health, and that they don’t know some of the horrors that I’ve seen. Maybe in some ways, that scared little boy still is with me? I’m facing five surgeries if I want to walk again, and the clock is ticking.
Maybe I’m a fool, but instead of saving money over the years, I sewed it into the lives of many who needed help more than I needed money at the time. I think I would do it all over again because I know that God says we are our brother’s keepers. I just don’t know how I’m going to live now. It’s hard and humbling to ask for help.
When I look at all the pictures of my High School, all I can say, is where did the time go? Maybe it’s not up to me to judge whether I’m a success or failure? Maybe I’m just supposed to live my life and do the best that I can?
I do know this, if I’m going to make it to my fortieth reunion, I’m going to walk in, or I won’t be there. I’ve done plenty of things that I’m ashamed of and plenty that I’m proud of as well, perhaps that’s life. I’m going to be fifty-six in a few weeks and all I ever wanted was to fit in and to love and be loved. Thanks to addiction, I ended up alone in a strange place and home doesn’t exist any longer. Some time that little boy inside just wants to go home, so I have to tell him that it’s going to be alright and that we are home wherever we are.
The greatest love that I’ve found comes from God and my dogs! I’m a blessed man to have them in my life! If I was speaking to this year’s graduating class, I would tell them how true the statement is that life is short! I would tell them not to take themselves too seriously, but to work hard and be committed to their career. I would tell the class to find careers that they love, jobs that excite and challenge them. I would say, remember to take vacations and have fun. Stay away from the gold diggers, the selfish, evil people who are only interested in self-promotion and financial gain. Most of all I would say, be good to each other and the people who help you on the road of life. Lastly, remember to pay it forward; comfort where you have been comforted and spread the love.
© 2017 Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin Ph.D.