Moving from Disconnection to Connection

I would like to start by saying it means a lot to be here right now. As a matter of fact, me being up here is the completion of something that started over two years ago when I was first a part of this garden. I was offered an opportunity to give a talk for a benefit just like this, but at the time wasn’t ready and failed to show. So I would like to thank Darrie for giving me a chance to come full circle and deliver a speech that should’ve been given over two years ago. 

Having my family present for this is very special. Especially my mother. Because she knows me best. Despite her unconditional love and acceptance of me, being vulnerable, even as a child has been extremely hard. For whatever reasons, I felt like I had to keep my life private and hidden for fears I am still coming to understand today. So she’s had to deal with my silence, short answers, and stoicness since I was a child. I’ve loved her so much, but just never really been able to express it. I think about all the times when she would see me shutting the world out, or all the times I’ve sat blank faced and suffering inside, and the powerlessness she must’ve felt against it, as I fell deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. Without her love, I wouldn’t be here today, she is my rock and earned her seat to hear this more than anyone. One of the many gifts this garden has given me, and my loved ones.

The gratitude I have for this opportunity and this garden that raised it is very representative of things that are taking shape in my life. My world is becoming full, and I’ve begun to nurture within it a variety of things that are filling it with growth. And this opportunity means so much because my life hasn’t always been full, and the growth at times has been far too painful to bear.

At a young age I felt a disconnect between myself and the world. In my younger years, and into my teens, I consistently felt inadequate in comparison to my peers, despite all the love I had growing up. I found myself constantly trying to fit in, taking certain traits from friends or the people I looked up to and trying to fit it into my life. Without the acceptance and validation from you, I would quickly find myself feeling not good enough, and outside of whatever thing I was trying to be a part of at the time. 

This type of people pleasing chameleon that I became completely exhausted me. Eventually my true self got lost in the shuffle and left me hopelessly reaching for something to fill the gaping hole of identity in my life. I NEEDED SOMETHING TO GET ME RELIEF.

“Eventually my true self got lost in the shuffle and left me hopelessly reaching for something to fill the gaping hole of identity in my life.”

And my solution became drugs and alcohol. Where most find problems in using, I found my solution. And in the beginning it worked. It took away my social anxiety, and gave me freedom. For the first time, I found confidence in the things I was doing, and it seemed I had found what I was missing in my life. Or so I foolishly thought. 

My substance use was like a luxury to me. Pain and weakness be damned! If life became too awkward, uncomfortable, sad, painful–you name it–when in doubt, I could numb it out. AA talks about an invisible line that every alcoholic eventually crosses. My substance use became no longer a luxury, but an absolute necessity. My solution deserted me, and left my life reeling. I fought desperately to recapture the comforts that kept me insulated from my problems in the beginning. But to no avail. Once again, I was left vulnerable to my self torture, and to the fury of this world.

Suffering through addiction reminds me of the Greek story of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, an ancient king, was punished for cheating death twice when it came to fetch him. Hades, being enraged by this, punished him by forcing him to roll a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down for eternity. He foolishly believes that despite failing over and over that one day he can make it to the top. Not unlike Sisyphus, the addict becomes punished for trying to cheat life when it calls. Over and over, I proved that this way of life, this cancerous solution of substance fails every time. And like our tragic hero. I foolishly believed that the next time would be different. 

I fought to avoid life. With all the destruction in my wake, I couldn’t help but feel that I was an unwanted burden on the world, and those who loved me were better off without me.

A disconnect, the feeling of inadequacy, or being broken was all-consuming once substance abuse became a serious problem. I didn’t fit in, so I sought isolation. Soon I was burdened with a stigma that only furthered my disconnect from life. Regarding the homeless man wandering the streets, the alcoholic and his brown paper bag, or the drug addict twitchy and screaming at the sky–all the hopeless unfortunates that are in plain sight, but remain always unseen – this stigma that equates to, “a hideous intrusion of a problem,” you ask, who are these people?! The truth is, that most of us have someone close to us that suffers from this disconnect of life, somebody that you know and love who made some bad choices and got caught up into something they don’t quite understand, and is now in over his or her head. You say, “Ya know, he’s a good kid, with a good heart, but he makes these decisions I just can’t understand.” And another truth is, most who have never experienced the hopelessness of addiction, will never understand. 

So if my problem is feeling apart, on the outside of everything, then trying to build a connection is an obvious answer. Life is unforgiving and confusing at times, but it’s also beautiful and poetic. It speaks to us through energy and feeling, and measures us in paradox. To win I was going to have to surrender. And most of all to keep a connection and happiness in life, I was going to have to give it away. Just gaining sobriety was not enough. The reality was that I was powerless against life itself. This is where I found the disconnect most powerful. It just seemed like there was no place for me to go. Outside the walls of rehab, away from those who can relate to my struggles is a world that is fast and unfamiliar. The nagging desire to run back to something, anything! that felt familiar was constantly nipping at my heels.

So how do I go from being disconnected most of my life, to becoming connected?  How do I find hope and compassion when there seems like there is none?

The Homeless Garden Project presented itself to me when I was searching for a way back into life, but wasn’t sure how to make that happen. As it turns out, the garden specializes in just this problem. Evan sat me down and told me how the trainee program worked–how the garden acts as a stepping stone to help reintegrate me back into life. A life that has always scared me, and made me want to seek safety and hide. But this was completely different. The garden transformed into precisely the thing that I needed at the time. It was gentle, welcoming, compassionate, and kind. But most importantly, understanding. I didn’t have to hide who I was for the fear of offending somebody or being judged. The other trainees and I have all been humbled by life in one way or another, but now we belong to this thing that “makes us feel a part of.” HGP has given us the powerful gift of connection, a connection between myself and the earth, a positive connection that I share with my fellow trainees, and a type of connection that I’ve never had before–a connection with my community. I get up every morning to work and nurture the earth so we can harvest vegetables to feed the very community I thought hated me. There’s incredible power in that.

I don’t feel lost anymore, I feel “a part of.” We don’t give up on people here at the garden. Me standing here sober, presenting a talk that I ran out on over two years ago proves that truth. I’ve gained accountability, self worth, connection, and growth since starting here. I even found my therapist through one of the wellness series presentations they offer every week. We need more places like the Homeless Garden Project. I see people all the time showing up, looking the way I felt the day I arrived, simply starving for connection, and I have yet to see this place turn a single person away. To myself and so many others, it’s become much more than a garden. It’s become a sanctuary for all of us who need a place to go and feel connected. 

—David Quigley, HGP Trainee, shared this talk at HGP’s Fall Sustain Supper 2023 at the farm.