I see you, my young friend, I really do.
Much like Marvel’s Bruce Banner, you are split in two.
One part of you, “The Hulk”, wants to walk away from the life you’ve known so far, and from the life your parents dreamed for you.
You secretly like to daydream about living the life of a full blown gangsta, hanging with your homies, making tons of money, doing drugs and fending for yourself on the streets.
You’re smoking, drinking, huffing, snorting, swallowing.
You love the adrenaline rushes that you get from breaking in, breaking out, being chased by and chasing after.
You enjoy fooling the police\parents\girls\suckers, and getting away with it.
You’re a hustler doing his thing - you’re making fast money in all kinds of creative ways.
It all feels real, powerful, badass.
Most people just don’t get it: the danger, the intensity, the friendships.
Living on the edge is addictive.
Other kids, “good kids”, are boring… Honestly, anybody that does not do what you do is boring.
‘Fuck school’ you tell yourself ‘School is for nerds, and it has nothing to do with my life’.
Parents, teachers, and adults in general, are so clueless, they have no idea.
Your life is crazy (and you enjoy this notion), yet somehow, every single crazy thing you did made perfect sense in the moment. Everybody else was on board, and besides, it’s not as bad as adults make it seem. They don’t understand everybody does it. At least the people you hang around with, which are the people you care about the most.
Nobody talks about it without rolling their eyes and judging, but you know: there’s more than one way to live. Snoop Dogg and Kokain are Crips, YG and The Game are Bloods… They are living examples of how good living life the “bad way” can be, and the “good way” isn’t very appealing to The Hulk.
The other part, “Bruce Banner”, wants his life back. He wants a very different future, one that does not involve jail.
There are moments that the thought passes through your head, as fast as lightning: you want out.
You’re tired and scared. The real is too real. And there’s no way out.
You owe people money, and this is no “kids play”, it’s real. And dangerous.
You can’t keep it up.
You’re in too deep, and so are all of your friends… “friends” - you know they will stab you in the back, figuratively and possibly literally, if you mess up, if you flinch, if you snitch.
There’s only one way to be around them, one way to talk, one way to feel.
So many “don’ts”: don’t act stupid, don’t look scared, don’t show any emotion.
It’s not who you are. Or at least it’s not who you were not that long ago, and you’re not really sure who you are anymore.
Sometimes, with some friends, especially those who you’ve known for a long time, you remember other ways you can be: you relax, laugh, even talk differently.
With every passing day you lose face in school and you fall behind farther. You don’t want to be one of those “dumb kids”, but in reality the gap is getting bigger and you feel like you already are.
You know doing well in school is the key to the only life you always wanted, and it’s also your way out. Falling behind is like signing up for a membership card for another life: drugs, jail, violence, fear, more drugs. Bruce wants it all to stop.
They rarely talk to each other, and I wonder which one of them knows more about the other, but I do know you don’t know how they switch from one to the other and you don’t know how to control either one of them.
Much like your parents, you are often surprised by your own behaviors and capabilities. Much like them, you don’t recognize yourself sometimes, and there are moments in which you like it, and others in which it scares you.
My young friend, please stop for a second and listen to me. I’ve seen this so many times. No one person is ever like another, but there are similarities in patterns - you are not the first to go through this.
What you are going through is, more than anything else, a fight for autonomy and power. The need for those is primal, and is felt by all humans. It is the driving force of most of your thoughts, feelings, and actions, even though you may not be fully aware of it yourself. You hate being under adults’ control, abiding their rules, living up to their expectations. You are capable and strong, and taking your power back feels so good.
Here’s where it gets tricky though: Often, what feels like claiming your power in the present, is a certain march towards losing your power in the most dramatic way in the very near future. Often, paradoxically, giving up your power momentarily, will guarantee the gain of power in the near future. Bruce knows this but is sometimes struggling to convince The Hulk. Immediate gratification is such a strong motivator.
As much as it may seem irrelevant to you right now, please know that losing your freedom, as a result of repeatedly breaking the law, is NOT an experience I’d recommend having, no matter how cool and common it may seem. Some things are going to be hard to shake and almost impossible to change: The lost time cannot be gained back, the bad reputation and society’s double standards towards people who committed crimes can become a burden that you will carry with you forever.
Another thing that cannot be changed, and will impact you in many ways, is the effects drugs (and other substances) have on your still developing brain. These are facts, I am not trying to scare you.
Drugs lose their beauty and magic with time. When you find yourself needing them to help you avoid feeling and thinking about things that make you feel bad, you’re going to start hating them. If you don’t learn how to deal with those "bad feelings" (such as guilt, regret and shame) you will be caught in a vicious cycle: feeling them for needing drugs, needing drugs to not feel them.
If I have convinced you that Bruce needs some backup, I strongly recommend seeking help. Here are a few options:
1. As counterintuitive as it may sound - find a trustworthy adult: a parent, teacher, neighbor, relative or counselor, and talk to them. Ask them to hold their judgment and then tell them what you need: sometimes you’ll need them to just listen. Sometimes you’ll need advice. They might surprise you for the better.
2. If you can’t find a trusted adult, try calling a youth emergency line. They are good listeners and are easy to talk to. Here’s the number for the California Youth Crisis Line: 1-800-843-5200. It’s a toll free number and can be dialed from every state.
3. If you are unable or unwilling to reach out, but you want to find a way to help Bruce yourself, try writing your thoughts down. You can write a conversation between your Bruce and The Mighty Hulk - it’ll be good for them to talk.
Choosing how and where to go from here is your choice, and it's yours alone, my young friend. No one will be able to stop The Mighty Hulk from digging you deeper and deeper into this lifestyle, and no one will be able to take credit for Bruce's ability to change this course if you claim a different life for yourself, and that is, by far, the ultimate power anyone can have.
"What are you saying? You think you can control it?"
"No no no, not con-not control it, but, I don't know, maybe aim it."
―Betty Ross and Bruce Banner, from "The Incredible Hulk"
New beginnings (is there any other kind, really?)... I know you hate them. So many people do. No matter what it is that we are starting: a new job, a new school, a new activity - we are at a discomfort, even if it is something we really want to do.
Why do we hate them so much? Well, probably because we are moving from the familiar to the unknown, and us, human beings, are creatures of habit. New beginnings are scary, and nerve wracking, to the point we will sometimes stay in a job\relationship\environment we dislike, and give up on opportunities to feel and do better, just to avoid this discomfort.
Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid new beginnings altogether, no matter how much we try. It is an integral part of our existence, naturally connected to the ebb and flow of life: whenever something ends, something else begins.
Nevertheless, because it is inevitable, it gets better as we grow older. No, we don’t necessarily become “beginning enthusiasts” (although one might), but life experience is invaluable in the way it helps us prepare for any new beginning.
It guides us in: making the choice (if it is in our hands), allocating our energy, setting the expectations for ourselves, allowing us to enjoy the unfamiliar new experience, and finally - in how we deal with the result.
How so? We experience successes and failures and learn to manage both; we get to know what we love doing, what we can tolerate doing and what we hate doing with vengeance; we know what it is we’re really good at, what we can get better at, and what we really don’t have any skills for.
For example, starting a blog is huge for me. Not something I would have ever guessed I’d do. Am I scared? Absolutely. Insecure? Undoubtedly. Nervous? Most certainly. But guess what? I am also excited, inspired, almost ecstatic - to do it. Why, you ask? Well… First, because I have some things to share that I hope will inspire, support and help others. Second, because I enjoy the writing process, and third, because I am thrilled to face the challenge whether I succeed or not.
Primarily working with teens, I wonder would I dare do something like this as an adolescent? And the answer is very clear: No way!!! I took myself way too seriously back then. Every risk felt like it could destroy me, so I often avoided things that involved potential failure or embarrassment. I think us adults often forget how hard it really was to be a teenager.
So other than to let life do what it does, how can we get better at dealing with new beginnings?
One way lies in the famous saying “do one thing every day that scares you”. When we do that, we gain life experience quickly and effectively, and we won’t let fear control us.
Another way is to simply accept and embrace the circumstances, without judgment. Tell ourselves something like “I’m starting this new task, I know I’m going to feel uncomfortable for a while and that’s ok. It won’t last forever”. It won’t make the uncomfortable go away, but it will eliminate the elements of surprise and self-bashing.
A third, and very effective way, is to remember previous beginnings, how they felt, how we got through them, and what helped. I strongly recommend writing those down!
And lastly, and this is important: Talk about it! Find at least one person who cares, and confide in them. Finding words to describe our experience dissipates the anxiety, and sharing it with others shows us we’re not alone.
So here’s to new beginnings! Happy 2018!