I felt sad… as if I just watched my own son leave home. I waved goodbye as Alex and Joe, his friend and manager, pulled away, disappearing around the corner of my quiet subdivision. I closed the door, hurried back to my study, and sighed out loud, trying to release what I was feeling inside.
Outside my window, I stared at my neighbor’s perfect lawn, perfectly-shaped trees, and the row of perfectly-spaced and uniformly-sized yellow lilies. I marveled at how they all seemed to grow at the same speed.
“Why do we humans have such a need to force everything and everyone into neat rows of ‘sameness,’ weeding out and rejecting that which is different?” I thought, as my tears took my frustration with the world out of my heart.
Alex and I met after one of my church performances. During the show, I talked about how ― because we try so hard to ‘fit’, to be accepted and loved by the world around us ― we often lose our self-confidence, ending up depressed and overcome with anxiety.
Not the kind of pleasant conversation you’d expect on a Sunday afternoon. I’m sure many in the audience would probably have been happier if I had just put on a smile and sang some old familiar hymns.
It wasn’t Alex’s tall, slim, 27-year-old figure, his epic curly hair, or even his youth that made him seem different from others. It was his apparent courage to be himself. Not trying to hide or feeling scared because he didn’t fit in. He seemed comfortable in his own skin.
I would soon find out that this wasn’t always the case.
“I’m Alex. A recovering addict and songwriter,” he introduced himself to me.
Standing with his mom, I signed their CDs. My mind quickly remembered the hundreds of ladies I’ve met over the years, who waited until the crowd cleared, asking me – from a state of utter helplessness – to pray for their drug-addicted sons and daughters. They felt their ‘secret’ and ‘shame’ was safe with me. I was a mother who would understand, but also a traveler whom they wouldn’t have to see next Sunday sitting in the pew appearing all ‘perfect.’
“I’d love to hear more,” I said.
A few weeks later, Alex drove from Philadelphia to Nashville to tell his story on my show Waking Up in America.
Days before the cameras rolled, Alex sat in my kitchen and we talked over a bowl of home-made chicken noodle soup (my mother’s recipe). Our conversation ranged from being present and eating healthy, to connecting with nature and playing music.
One early afternoon, Alex came down and sat at my baby grand. I could sense him sitting there for a moment before his fingers touched the keys and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata filled our home. Moments later, he picked up his guitar and began to practice the song he would perform in our show.
“What a deep, creative and beautiful soul he is,” I thought as I got to spend this time with him and around him.
When we walked into “O Gallery,” our location of the interview, he got quiet. Not because he was nervous, but because he was soaking in the paintings of Olga Alexeeva, who is as free-spirited and unconventional in her artistic expression as one can be.
As a kid, Alex dreamed of becoming a pilot because he was fascinated by the idea of being “free enough to fly through the air.”
Alex moved from Philadelphia to the suburbs and never managed to fit in. He was a target of a lot of bullying, became depressed and withdrew into himself. His only outlet was creativity – imagination and drawing. But he got chastised by his teachers for it and told he had the ‘worst case of ADHD’ a teacher had ever seen.
Alex tried to tell his parents, but at 10 or 11 years old, Alex didn’t know how to express it. He just wanted to die.
“[I became] more obsessed, more interested in death because whatever it is it must be something better than whatever life is. I was just really in so much pain and just didn’t want to live.”