ROOM 88 – EPISODE 7 – YEMI OGUNDARE – My Healing Journey
It had been an amazing month having these sessions with Misan, Felix, Femi and Helen. If I had my doubts before, it had now become very certain that God orchestrated these meetings, and I was very hopeful that each of them would find healing, forgiveness and the strength to move on with their lives free from condemnation. That has been my life testimony.
As each of them told their story, it was easy for me to relate. I had been there, I knew what it felt like to live a life that gave you pleasure and pain. A life that brought you so much fear and made you cry yourself to sleep, yet presented you to the world the morning after as bold and fearless. It wasn’t a good place to be and I was there for many years.
“Mummy, I want to tell you something. Do you know I was…..”
“Yemi, I’m very late for my meeting with the Minister, you can tell Aunty Maria or Mr Frank now and then you’d tell me all about it when I get back. I’d see you later honey.” She kissed me quickly on my forehead, picked up her bag and left.
I had a very frustrating childhood, but everyone at school wanted to be me. I was the popular rich kid and had everything at my beck and call. An only child and a male, my parents spoiled me silly. I grew up with the high and mighty and had everything that money could buy.
A few months to my tenth birthday, my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I couldn’t think of anything, I had everything and nothing would have excited me anyway. We were watching TV that evening and there was a polo game showing. Jokingly I asked for a horse and to my surprise, I got two horses and a personal trainer complete with a membership subscription at the Polo Club. That was the kind of childhood I had. I had everything but I had no attention.
I craved so much for attention from my parents but it never came, they were always busy. Busy attending meetings in every part of the world, busy acquiring money they couldn’t finish spending if they lived for three lifetimes. It didn’t help that I had no siblings. I envied my friends at school who had brothers and sisters and hands on parents who attended school meetings and end of year concerts. My parents made the most donations to school but they were never available to attend any events.
By the time I was in Secondary School, it was convenient for them to dump me in the boarding house. I was equally happy to leave home and in no time, I had created a family for myself. We were a clique of five boys and we called ourselves ‘The Titanium’, we were the coolest, most influential boys in school and everyone wanted to be friends with us.
School work wasn’t a problem for me or any of us and that made us even more popular. We were top of the class in academics but also the most rebellious students. Our teachers were careful not to cross our paths, for fear of what our parents could do to them or the school system as a whole and so, we got away with all our shenanigans.
By the time we got into Junior Secondary school, we were already leaving school to attend parties in clubs in the city and this is where the problem began. We had money to spend, loads of it and so we were the target of many club hustlers who we later came to know as drug peddlers. We were young and naive even though we thought we knew it all.
We got invited to every party and had free VIP access, of cos we got to spend a lot of money buying bottles and making ourselves feel relevant. Soon enough we were introduced to drugs. It started from marijuana laced with all forms of chemicals and in no time we were doing cocaine, amphetamines and meth amphetamines.
Of course our grades dropped drastically and it was only by a stroke of luck we managed to graduate. As a matter of fact, we paid our way through our final exams. At this point, I was totally disconnected from my parents, not like they noticed anyway. As long as I was doing well in school and they got no bad reports, they continued to give me everything I asked for.
I was silently hoping my use of drugs will give me some form of attention, so while I was at home waiting for my University admission to come through, I would organize loud house parties. And on one occasion, I allowed my guests come in with drugs knowing my dad will be home. To my surprise, he came in, walked past us and went up to his room.
The following morning, he sent for me. “Yemi, I can see the wait for your admission is taking too long and you’re getting very bored. I won’t let your youthful exuberance bring shame to my political career”. He paused and took a sip of his tea.
“I have spoken to your mother and we have both agreed you will be going to America to continue your education. Obviously, keeping you here will be a high risk. She’s already making plans to start the process. Send her an Email on your choice of schools as soon as I’m done with you. Get your things ready, you’d be leaving for Atlanta this weekend. Copy me in the E-mail you’d be sending to your mother. You may go”
And just like that I was dismissed. No questions asked, my opinion didn’t matter. I didn’t matter, as long as I wasn’t getting in the way of their career, I didn’t matter. All these years, my use of drugs had been to feel among. But the pain and hurt I felt at the moment needed something strong. I called my supplier and for the next few days before I left for Atlanta, all I did was smoke Marijuana, sniff cocaine, sleep, eat and start all over.
My school clique had been dissolved right after we had to go back home, Aminu had gained admission into the University of Abuja and joined his father in their family business. Kola had straightened out after an episode with his parents where he was found with drugs. They had taken him straight into rehab, his mother quit her job and relocated with him to the UK to start life afresh. Fareed had also joined his father in business while he attended the Bayero University in Kano to study Agricultural Economics and Extension. That left me and Bode, who was constantly having it hot with his family.
In Bode’s case, he was the rebellious one. He had all the attention he needed from his parents and siblings. They loved him and did nothing to hide it. They tried being firm and assertive, they also tried doting and care but it all yielded nothing. Bode just chose to be a trouble to them.
With only three days left to pack up and leave for the United States, I fell into the abyss of depression. I knew what I wanted to be in life but I needed people to be a part of that life, I wanted to be loved and wanted. I needed a family to share that life with. I felt so scared and alone and for the first time in my life, I contemplated suicide. There was no point going on. If I accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish, who would share the joys with me? Who would hold my hands when things got rough? There really was no point to keep living.
The thoughts of ending it all kept coming back to me but I took no action. Of course there was no one to see me off to the airport and I was very certain there would be no one to meet me on arrival in Atlanta and yes I was right. My mother didn’t show up at our house until after a week. She had been in Amsterdam with the President’s wife.
“I hear you now do drugs and even brought it home with your friends” She started while we had dinner together at a restaurant.
“Mummy, I wish you guys will just take some time off and really hear me….” She cut me off abruptly.
“Listen, Yemi. I don’t know what exactly you have to say, but I’d have you know that I think you’re being really selfish. Your dad and I do everything for you, everything just to ensure you have the very best in life. We didn’t have that while growing up. We lived in abject poverty, at least I did. No one is going to do anything for you and that is why all this travelling, late night meetings and all what not is to make sure you are set up for life” She said as a matter of fact.
I sighed deeply “Mummy, I appreciate it, I appreciate it all but all I’m saying is sometimes I need you, your attention, to talk to you, share my thoughts with you. That’s all I’m saying.”
She looked up from her plate and I don’t know if it was anger or irritation or both, but the look on her face sent chills down my spine as she spoke “If you weren’t my son and if this wasn’t a public place, I’d pour the entire bottle of wine on your head. You are just a spoiled brat. Listen to me, we are going to get started on your admission into Emory University to study Psychology. Again, I’d let you have your way because I can’t understand why you’d choose psychology of all courses. But you, young man will come out tops at the end of that course and move on to get a Masters degree. You had better stay focused and get your head out of the clouds and stop looking for who will sit around chit chatting aimlessly with you” And with that she stood up and left the restaurant.
I closed myself up completely after that episode. All I needed was anything to block out the pain eating deep into my heart and in no time, I got hooked up with a guy who became my supplier. I lived alone in one of my father’s three bedroom terrace apartment in Lenox Atlanta and I had the option of moving into the campus, but I couldn’t bear the pain of seeing other students with their joy and happiness enjoying parental care and sibling rivalry, knowing I was never going to have any of that. Being on my own seemed like a better option.
I made a few acquaintances in the neighborhood and there were a couple of guys I’d hang out with whenever I felt the need to socialize. Otherwise, I made sure I wasn’t short of my cocaine supply and would just do my thing at home. I went through my years of study going through the motion, with my mum’s warning to make sure I come out tops firmly rooted in my head.
I really yearned to have a happy life filled with laughter and joy and companionship. The fact that I couldn’t get it from my family made me believe I couldn’t get it genuinely from anywhere or anyone else. Look at my friends from Secondary school, they eventually had to leave me to move on with their lives. I was all alone and it was a painful and scary feeling.
I had slowly become a junkie but I lived in denial of it. My supply was constant and I had everything I needed all the time from food to clothes, cash, cars and whatever thing I desired, so there wasn’t really any cause for concern. Then one weekend, the guy who sold the cocaine to me went out of town and didn’t inform me.
The plan had been to replace my stash that Friday after I had taken my last dose before going to school that morning. I called him on my way home but his number was unreachable, so I left a message and went home. Hours later, there was still no word from him and then I called again, still unreachable.
At this point, I started to panic, I picked my car keys and drove to his apartment, I must have knocked up to a hundred times until his neighbor came out to tell me he had traveled out of town to attend to an emergency. I felt like I was going to lose my mind.
I left, confused and helpless as I kept trying to reach him to at least direct me to someone else who could give me something. It was all to no avail. By night time I was livid and throwing things around the house, all the emotions I had suppressed surfaced and I felt like I was dealing with about fifty different conflicting emotions.
I cried and screamed and kicked and broke stuff. I was a complete mess and I needed a fix asap, I kept going through my contact list looking for anyone I could call to hook me up but there was no one to help me. I went into the pantry and brought out a bottle of Vodka, I just needed anything to take the pain away. I took a big gulp and found my way back to my room. I had some sleep med I used once in a while whenever I found it difficult to sleep and then the thought came to me again.
I should just take an overdose and end it all. I took another gulp of the vodka from the bottle and fell back on my bed crying. I must have slept off sometime after that. I woke up about four a.m with a very nagging headache, I got up and went to pee, as I tried to recollect everything that happened the night before and then I broke down in tears again.
I cried so hard, I felt physically exhausted. I knew right then I couldn’t continue to live like that, it was either I ended it all or I sought help. Through our courses in school, there was always a reminder to us for the need to speak to a therapist regularly. We had unlimited access to them and I decided I was going to give it a chance. I needed a way out and if seeing a shrink didn’t work, then I’d take the only other option left. Suicide.
After many inquiries, moments of doubt and uncertainty, I met Charlotte, a sixty year old very fashion forward African American woman with a wealth of real life experiences, profound wisdom and a heart of gold. She was a Professor of Psycho social Psychology and also had a PhD in Counselling Psychology.
It was a long and painful process for me going through therapy with a total stranger. I found it hard to open up to her, I missed sessions and was still hooked on cocaine. On some days, Charlotte was the only person I wanted to see and on other days, I didn’t want to as much as hear her voice. But she was patient, she was kind, she wasn’t over bearing or judgmental and never tried to impose her opinions on me.
When she met a brick wall trying to get me to talk about my challenges, she invited me to a couple of group sessions where I heard other people relate their experiences and some of those stories humbled me. Eventually I opened up. We talked about the drugs, we talked about my childhood, we talked about everything. I told her about my dreams and the kind of life I really wanted. It took three years of her being consistent with me before I gained my freedom. Our sessions lasted up until the time I got my Masters Degree.
With her help, through medical and psycho-therapeutic rehabilitation, I eventually stopped taking cocaine or any drugs at all. It didn’t come easy, it was slow, painful and frustrating but Charlotte never gave up on me. We had built a bond and I couldn’t imagine life without her.
I had cut off from my parents after my graduation. I believe I had given them what they wanted – a degree and no distractions. I moved out of their house after I had gotten a job and was earning enough money to stay on my own. I stopped taking my monthly allowance and when they started to probe, I sent them a long E-mail baring my mind to them.
“I hope this Email really helps you understand where I am coming from and the reasons for my recent actions. First, I’d like to say thank you for everything you have ever done for me, for setting a foundation that every child would want to have. I can’t deny that it has helped me get to where I am now.
But you know, money isn’t always everything, sometimes there’s the need for love, affirmation, attention, guidance and companionship and I never got any of that from either of you, I grew up going through life on my own, trying to figure things out myself. I grew up lonely, scared and feeling very unloved. Now, I understand that giving me material things was your own way of showing me love as it also gave you time to pursue your ambitions.
I put it to you today that all those meetings and travelling wasn’t to give me the best, it was for your own selfish interests and life pursuits. I no longer want to be a part of that and I’m happy that I have gained some level of independence and can make my own money. I’m happy to start life on my terms and be able to live on my terms. I want none of your wealth now that I can create mine. And I will do that not only by amassing material things but also building meaningful relationships.
I wish you luck and hope that you find all you’re looking for, I see that daddy is running for the post of Vice President, I wish you luck with that too. I don’t expect any response to this message, I’m not looking forward to one. All I desired was to have parents who actually did want me, not to be a figure head to complete the family picture. Thank you again for everything.“
The moment I hit the send button, I felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulder. Life from then on seemed more hopeful, I began to socialize more, I went on dates and of course, gave a lot of dedication to my job. Charlotte spoke to me about forgiveness and talked me into forgiving my parents so I could truly move on. It was another difficult truth for me to face but I reached out and paid them a visit in Nigeria, it was a very awkward meeting but it was worth it.
They had come to accept their faults and apologized for the years of neglect. It was during that visit I had the epiphany to move back home and start up therapy sessions, I figured there were lots of other people going through the things I went through. I did my research, got my licence and set up ROOM 88.
It isn’t new to me what Helen, Misan, Femi or Felix were going through, I am a survivor of mental and emotional trauma whose mission is to save other people from drowning in the ocean of fear, loneliness, confusion, hate and anger. Just like me, their healing is in motion and in no time, just like me, they’d be set free.
Even the therapist once needed therapy. Yemi’s story is on a whole other level. Now their journey to healing is on full gear and the next few episodes to the end of this amazing series will show us how each of them is able to face up to their fears and the darkness that lurks within. How they all find redemption and live their happiest lives.
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It’s your favorite story teller, sending you love and light as always.