“If I had not been born as Andrew Lee Hicks, would whatever this conscious thing that I think of as me have been born as someone else? I mean, if my parents had never met, would whatever is in me that makes me aware that there even is a me, still be out there in the world somewhere in another body with another life?”
“And what about space? Outer space could not possibly end, could it? And if it did end, wouldn’t there have to be something on the other side?”
I was asking questions like these around, I don’t know, maybe six or seven years old. I wasn’t a big hit at parties.
From an early age, it struck me that most people seemed to avoid the hard existential questions as they got older, perhaps because they had given up on there ever being answers.
But my heart knew in its roots that finding answers was not only possible, but vital. And it was up to people like me to do it. Not because of any specialness on my part, but just because I give a damn.
And I mean, what else is there to do? Gossip about celebrities and endlessly talk about the weather?
No. No! Sign me up for navel-pondering, please.
I was raised a Baptist by a family that really sucked at being Baptists. I accumulated an unholy mass of God baggage throughout my teens, courtesy of the double standards I perceived in so many nooks and crannies of my environment. There was a thick “do as I say, not as I do” vibe apparent from several prominent authority figures.
“Do as I say, not as I do…” Could anything be more stark-rave maddening?
I was seventeen years old when my bitterness consumed me altogether. I dropped out from my private school, refused to go to church, and found myself on the path to… the dark side.
Divergent branches, same vine
My brother Jeremy is a year and a half my junior. Right around when I dropped out of school and began experimenting with choices that would punish me in ways I could not yet imagine, Jeremy was in the process of coming into his own as a missionary. My bro and I branched into completely different directions from the vine in which we mutually originated.
Brother of light, brother of darkness…
Yin and yang. Two sides, one coin. In the years to come, there were many instances when the only commonality we shared was that we remained related human beings who loved one another.
Taboo no more
As for me, I was swiftly swept up into a world of unrestrained excess. Finally! To personally investigate all the taboos of my youth. It was invigorating! Imagine that the world, contrary to what you’ve been told your whole life, actually does not shatter to shards, even after partaking of the forbidden fruit. Not even the most potent combo of alcohol, marijuana, strip clubs, and more marijuana could bring about armageddon.
Occasionally would arrive a night when my eyes would linger on an endless starry sky, and I’d feel it in my bones that I was off track. That childhood sense of awe for the universe rose up in me, pleading for me to correct my course.
Alas, the allure of partying had me in a vice grip, so I stubbornly persisted down that path. That road unfolded into new phases, the next of which involved a sequence of co-dependent relationships and escalating drug experimentation.
Here comes the cough medicine
One of the drugs I tried, of course, was dextromethorphan, a crazy-powerful substance that inspired me to deep bouts of philosophical euphoria and fleeting senses of enlightenment. On DXM, it seemed like the answers to life’s so-called impossible questions were just around the corner. I became turbo-obsessed with the idea that I could solve the greatest riddles of existence by virtue of that drug.
For the better part of ten years, that obsession was the focus of my life to which every standard and value I have ever had for myself was undermined and sacrificed.
My pursuit for truth took me through psych wards, jail cells, the muddiest parts of the earth, and the blackest areas of my soul. There were good times too, but there’s nothing in the world quite comparable to waking up naked, pummeled by bruises all over my body, strapped down in a hospital bed with a catheter, having no idea how I got there, literally so disoriented that English words sound like some bizarre extraterrestrial dialect. Not precisely what I had in mind when I took the red pill.
A million second chances
Through all that was the enduring love of my family, who never (permanently) gave up on me. I have been given more “second chances” than a single person could ever reasonably deserve, and it is through that grace that I finally tapped into the motivation to start turning my life around.
As of writing this, I am nearly thirty and it seems my self-destructive hurricane is behind me. Going back to school has been a profound developmental experience for me, and it’s something I never would have foreseen just a couple short years ago. I am still in the process of figuring out what I want to do with my life, but the truth is that I am overjoyed just to be alive. Such a refreshing change of pace after many a year, shuffling about like a walking corpse!
Oh, and those difficult questions? I still ask them. But I have come to realize that obsessing over the nature of the path just is not the same as walking it…
(As of posting this on May 4, 2015 I am thirty-four years old and that self-destructive hurricane has surely come back for an encore or two. But it’s all good.)
Also published on Medium.