By David Davis
I grew up in Washington D.C. in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when it was known as the “Murder Capital.” Due to my environment and choices I made I began seeing death first-hand at a young age. There was so much crime and violence in my neighborhood that I thought it was normal to bury teenage friends. In the black community we are taught to cope with anything we encounter and remain strong and never show emotions or weakness. Mental illness is often stigmatized and rarely discussed.
Because I felt I had to be strong and show no weakness or emotion I started self-medicating to numb my feelings of fear and sadness. Drugs and alcohol became my major coping mechanisms. At the time I never realized the impact that the inner city life I was living had on me and my mental health. Now I look back and realize that I have battled depression my whole life and as a result of self-medicating I developed a substance abuse problem.
I was surrounded by trauma. When I was 14 my brother was shot in the face with a shot gun. He survived, but that was the point when life changed for me. My reckless behavior really began and I took my drug use to a higher level just to numb the pain. I really didn’t want to live the street life but I felt like I was stuck and had no hope at all. I continued this pattern for the next 18 years, going in and out of jail, feeling hopeless, and isolating myself. This behavior led to me getting a divorce and breaking up my family.
My lowest point came in March of 2014 when my ex-wife called me and told me that she was tired of the life I was living and threatened to take me back to court for custody of our daughter. Since our divorce I had custody of our daughter, but my ex-wife was fed up. At that time I was in the worst depression I had ever experienced in my life. I had lost about 60 pounds, I had a $200.00 a day drug habit, I was drinking daily, and I had no one to talk to about what I was going through.
I gave in and let her take my daughter, and that night I took way too many pills and drank until I passed out. That was the only way I knew to deal with the pain. I was disappointed when I woke up the next morning, because without my daughter I didn’t want to live anymore. I had been fighting all my life and I was ready to give up. I had reached my breaking point.
My lowest point turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Later that day, my aunt asked me about going to treatment and after thinking about it I said yes. I have to admit, I didn’t think it would work since drugs had been a big part of my life for over 23 years. I went anyway. Going to treatment gave me time away from the outside world. I was able to analyze my life and think about what I wanted out of it. I had never done this before because I didn’t expect to be alive at the age of 33. I had no plans, goals or dreams to chase, but for the first time ever I felt hopeful about my future. And for the first time ever I was taking care of my mental health.
I remember being asked by a peer what I was going to do when I was released and I said that I would move to another state as soon as possible because I couldn’t go back to anywhere I lived before and not get in trouble. The response he gave me will always stick with me. He said, “It doesn’t matter where you go if you’re taking you with you.” At this moment I realized it wasn’t my environment—it was my thinking that had to change. I decided that upon release I wanted to return to my community and help others the way I was helped.
Following treatment I enrolled in college, majoring in psychology with a focus on substance abuse. I am now in my junior year and will graduate in the summer of 2017. I am a Certified Peer Specialist and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Certified PEER Facilitator. My ultimate goal is to become a psychologist.
Because of what I went through, I want to educate and bring hope to black youth living in the inner city, where the cycle of violence continues today. My situation and choices left me feeling so hopeless, but I know now that recovery is possible.
I can finally look towards my future with hope.
David Davis lives in Washington D.C. He is pursuing his degree in psychology and is passionate about breaking down mental health stigma in the black community. David is a single father to his beautiful daughter. You can find him on Twitter at @dcdavisls.