A New Way of Thinking

by Ruben Alvarado, Community Impact Manager, Jubilee

John has made some significant changes recently. Becoming a father unexpectedly made him reevaluate his life and how he invested his energy. For many years, he had been a member of an outlaw motorcycle club. For him, it was an identity that provided a sense of security and belonging. Unfortunately, the proximity to negative and criminal activities, and the wounded people within this group, exacerbated his mental health condition. He felt that the very thing he valued in his life as a source of pride robbed him of his energy and positivity. 

Because of his condition, John would often filter actions or inactions by those around him as personal threats, tempting him to react with hostility. He learned early on to meet hostility with more hostility. Those who have experienced significant trauma in their lives can easily be triggered to a fight or flight response, and John has experienced more trauma than most. When he acted with aggression towards staff and neighbors, he expected to receive hostility or to be made an outcast. He would be on the defensive, thinking that people did not want him in the neighborhood. In response, he would use his club to intimidate neighbors and project an appearance of toughness to ensure that people would not get close enough to cause him harm.

Fortunately, he is surrounded by neighbors and friends that care for him and can model a different way of thinking. Over the years, John has experienced love, acceptance, and healthy boundaries in Tierra Vida from staff and neighbors. This was in sharp contrast to his other relationships. After his daughter was born, John began to see that he could shape the environment in which she lived. He made dramatic changes in his life and began to shed his old identity in favor of a new identity: “father.” He sold his motorcycle and invested his money into getting his house ready for his daughter.

John also reached out into the neighborhood. During the winter, he helped to remove snow from neighbors’ sidewalks, and this action snowballed into countless, consistent, and significant acts of service to his neighbors to make amends for his past behavior. He continues to stay busy and has transformed his backyard into a hospitable space for family and guests. John says “keeping the garden in the dark will kill it. Sunlight gives it life.” He feels that helping others is like a light in his life. He keeps his head high so others can see the change. 

Perhaps the most transformational change that has occurred in John is acquiring the courage to walk across the street to begin conversations with neighbors, even some with whom he did not previously get along. For many, this distance feels longer than miles. John took those steps across the street and, in doing so, began to break down the wall of hostility to foster hospitality. 

While his mental health condition still exists, John is making concerted efforts to steward his mental wellbeing and continue to practice changing his way of thinking. He has made an external change by shaving off his long hair and donating it to Locks of Love with the hope of helping cancer patients in need of hair. He has also channeled his frustrations and emotions into creating and reciting heart-felt poetry about mental health and transformation.

Here is one of John’s most recent poems.

The Insanity

Though my life was hopeless

So the bottle became my friend.

So many wasted years

Can’t bring back again.

Can’t believe the life I lived.

and the crazy things I’ve done

Out of touch with the reality.

I was like a loaded gun.

Oh, I hated living by the bottle

and to my knees I did fall,

and prayed to Jesus Christ to end the insanity of it all.

Oh, how the Lord gave me the strength

to put the bottle down.

But when life became a struggle

temptation came around.

So, then I thought that I could drink

just a tiny bit.

But I ended up where I started from

Back in the same old pit.

Oh, I hated ‘livin’ by the bottle

and to my knees I did fall

and I prayed to Jesus Christ

to end the insanity of it all.

Now it’s been a while,

And I haven’t touched a drop

All my friends are quite amazed

That I’ve chosen to stop.

Now it’s been a while. And I’ve left it all behind.

All my friends are quite amazed,

because I’ve regained my peace of mind.

And that’s because…

Oh, I hated ‘livin’ by the bottle,

and to my knees I did fall,

and I prayed to Jesus Christ

To end the insanity of it all.

Oh, yeah… the insanity of it all.

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