[The following is a short excerpt from A Moment of Clarity: The Journey Continues, written by Freddie Williams, a 2012 graduate of CalSouthern’s Master of Arts in Psychology program. Freddie is a gifted mental health clinician, specializing in addiction counseling, and the founder of Shifting Gears, an organization specializing in substance abuse treatment and HIV education. He is a sought-after speaker, a board member of The Design for Living treatment facility, a former member of the L.A. County HIV Prevention and Planning Committee and past chairman of the California HIV Planning Group. He’s also the winner of the 2013 CalSouthern Difference.
A Moment of Clarity is a collection of stories of hope, strength and courage, designed to inspire others to a life of recovery, peace and stability. You can purchase or learn more about the book here. In this excerpt, Freddie describes a few of the many seemingly insurmountable obstacles that he overcame on his path to fulfilling his life’s purpose: giving back to his community and healing lives.]
We were the first African-American family to live on 45th Street, between Harvard Boulevard and Western Avenue. My next-door neighbors were white families, and down the block were Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino families. I played with kids of every ethnicity on my block, and I had no idea that it was rare to mix with other races in the 1950s, as equals.
It wasn’t long before the racial divide began to form, maybe within the next five years, and families of other races started moving out. More African-Americans and Hispanics began to move in. Thus, the increasing “ghetto” landscape began to take shape, and so did the downward spiral of my dysfunctional emotions. Disappearing were my feelings of being safe at home in my neighborhood, as well as my confidence, self-worth and self-esteem.
My dad’s alcoholism had become progressively worse. I can remember being four-and-a-half years old and almost ready to start school, when I was awakened by arguing, cussing, and ultimately, physical fighting coming from my parents’ bedroom. I was scared, lying in bed with my brother, trembling, wanting to go in there and help my crying mother, but too afraid of my dad’s wrath. Drinking, arguing, fussing and fighting was the norm in my house, and so were the family secrets. I felt shameful, inadequate, less than dumb, and stupid.
There were five of us kids, my mother, and my dad who was sometimes around, struggling on welfare, which consist of food commodities allotted once a month. When that food ran out it was tough until our date the next month. Needless to say, we would go to bed hungry, waiting on my dad to bring home food, which didn’t happen often. Recognizing our desolation, mom gathered the family around her and planted a seed inside three of us about graduating high school. She said, “I don’t want to live like this, so please graduate high school.” I would go through many struggles before this seed would grow.
In school, my African-American classmates and I were referred to as “you people” by many white teachers and authorities, and I internalized all those feelings which caused me to have an extreme sense of guilt about myself, my race, my upbringing, and my economic condition. Reprimanded about the way I spoke and pronounced my words from learned behavior in my house, my neighborhood and within my environment of marginally educated people, the stage was set for my anti-social attitude, my criminal tendencies and the poor decisions I would go on to make for the better part of my life.
I felt shame and embarrassment because it seemed like all the other kids were laughing at and teasing me. That’s when I told myself that I didn’t fit in and I wasn’t good enough. My feelings of emotional inferiority kicked into my personality and character. I didn’t want to be shamed and embarrassed ever again, but my promise to my mother was going to be honored. I sat quietly in all my classes, I didn’t participate in any question-and-answer sessions, didn’t volunteer to write on the blackboard, and I didn’t raise my hand to speak, even when I knew the correct answer.
I had a need to overcompensate and put on a front of being anyone except the Freddie I thought I was. I was very young when I began looking for something to fill the void within my soul. Shame, guilt and inferiority began to dictate my actions and behavior. At first it was in a subtle way, then it rapidly progressed, dictating the choices and decisions that I would make due to a sequence of traumatic events that began to happen in my young life.
My mind became set on stealing. I felt that my hustling abilities made me someone special, blessed by the street gods and way ahead of the kids in my neighborhood who were enjoying their childhoods. I hooked up with older “homies” in my neighborhood and I began drinking alcohol and smoking weed to hang out and fit in. These substances gave me a sense of well-being, courage, and power to overcome my personal and emotional shortcomings and negative self-image when I compared my insides with your outsides.
A Conversation with Freddie Williams Listen to this podcast to learn more about Freddie’s story, his experience in committing it to writing and his hopes for those that read it. Freddie also provides an update on his inspiring work in addiction recovery and HIV education.