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Photo ofGerardo Contreras

I have an addiction; an addiction that is so strong that when I feed it, I feel alive. Discovering that I have an addiction is something that opened my eyes about myself. I began to learn more about myself: my moods, emotions, feelings and most importantly, how to regulate them, especially in times of crisis. This all started when my life changed, when everybody’s life changed for the worse. 

I used music and sports as an escape. Every time I was stressed, worried, mad, upset or felt numb, I listened to music. At the time it helped me get through the day and my high school work. I always grew up with music, whether it was rap, hip hop, R&B, Mexican or even country. When I hear music, my soul comes alive. Music helps me block out the noise that surrounds me and stay focused or help me feel better. This is what I loved to do. Anything I did involved listening to music to help me get through those boring moments. If it was one thing that I can count on to help me it was always music.   

The next thing was sports. I grew up in a big sports family and at a young age I wanted to be an athlete. At first I played baseball as a kid. I did that a couple years but lost my passion for the game. Later on I tried basketball and loved it. I loved everything about the game. I would play almost everyday. Growing up basketball was the dominant sport in my life. As I continued to play, I found some sort of state that I call “The Zone”. The Zone was what I picked up along the way. It was like listening to music but it was better. The Zone is where I work out my frustration on the court. I never did like talking about my feelings. I never really found someone to comfortably talk to or when I did, they would make me feel uncomfortable to talk about those feelings and make me regret opening up. I know I have an anger issue and there are no words to describe how I feel without having to censor myself. The best way I can describe it is wanting to punch a wall until my hands go through or my hands bleed. I could never scream and say what I want to say without having somebody saying, “what’s wrong”, “what did you do that for”, or “watch your mouth”. If they asked I would always give the same answer, “just to feel better” or ‘because I wanted to”. Now, when I enter “The Zone”, I would always channel that energy out on the court. Then at the end of the day I felt better. I kind of felt at peace. People always say, “Better out than in” and encourage you to talk about your feelings or your problems. But I erased that negative energy by putting it on the court, play by play. Not saying a word and feeling better after each practice, workout, and games. The Zone made me not worry about world problems, family problems, school problems, or personal problems. 

I know I said I have an addiction and you may be wondering what it is. Up until now, I wanted to give you a behind the scenes view of my life. But now this is where the change occurs and not just for myself. The year 2020. Yes, I know possibly the worst year in history with many life changing events that affected everyone. For many, the effects were negative. However, my experience was positive;  this is where change came and made my life better. 

A couple weeks after basketball season ended and just as I was about to get into baseball again, the pandemic hit. That week was mayhem. Masks were enforced, stores closed, social distancing was mandated, and there was a shortage of toilet paper! At the beginning of the pandemic I was fine, relaxing and just checking emails from teachers. But after two weeks, I was kind of depressed. I felt lazy, unmotivated, didn’t eat that much, and just felt numb. I did not know how long I could keep on a smile to let people know I was okay. I did not want to talk about it because I did not want the extra focus of attention on me or have people force me to talk about it to help them help me. At the end of the day it was me who was living with it, not them. This kind of depression, and the anger issues, was not the best way to live and I was hurting myself mentally and emotionally. My family noticed the change. Very often I wanted to be by myself and basically do nothing except help my family in the pandemic; I was told I was not being “myself”. After hearing this too many times I wanted it to stop. But I did not want to speak up and bring attention to my problems. I did not want to sound weak, and have special rules given to me. I did not want to live like that but I also did not want to continue living this way either. On top of that my eyes were opened about my so-called “friends”. They were never my real friends. After reflecting on it I realized that I was always helping them. The only time they talked to me was for school work or when they needed help. They never asked if I wanted to hang out, and only cared about themselves or others that were just like them. But I am glad I found my few closest friends because I can count on them and be myself. I realized that I was wasting my time and energy on the wrong people, which initially made me upset, but helped me learn a valuable lesson. 

A couple days went by and I looked in the mirror and reflected on myself. I hated writing reflections because teachers at my school would assign them so often but this reflection was for myself. I kept asking myself “What is wrong with myself?, Who have I become? Where is my life heading?”. After a hard assessment of myself I did not like who I was mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was not proud of myself. I wanted to change myself badly. I wanted to play basketball, to make me feel better but I did not have the equipment. I remembered that my dad had a few weight sets from when I was a kid. So in order for me to change physically I decided to workout and basically be fit. The next day I went to the garage and got the weights. I put my music on and did the exercises that my dad did and what I remember from basketball workouts. I pushed myself and got to work everyday. After a few weeks I saw the results and loved the process. Ever since I could not play basketball there was a part of me that was missing. The part of me that missed the physical part and the adrenaline of the game. Picking up those weights filled that void. I felt whole again; complete. I found myself making it a habit to go workout almost daily and finding ways to get physically better. I wanted to get better at it and exercise correctly as well as improve myself. I would think of all my troubles and use it as fuel during the workout. I finally channeled my emotions and troubles through physical activity. My mind would get a little reset after each workout. My emotions would be in check. I would release my stress, anger, depression, troubles and thoughts in every workout. When I finished, I felt relieved, as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. 

By the time the new school year arrived, I was more stressed than ever. In school I would hold on to all my emotions and let it out at the end of the day to workout. During warm ups, I would open up my emotions and let my thoughts flow to get me ready. I would talk to myself to mentally prepare for the workout. My mind would repeat all the troubles I experienced along with pent up emotions. Thoughts of not having the teenage life I wanted or what my parents wanted for me, consumed me. I found that talking to yourself is the best way to release those thoughts and emotions and who better to speak to than you, because in the end, you know you will always be there. If you were to look at me and see what I’m doing, I would probably sound like Two-Face from Batman, or someone in an asylum with multiple personalities. But after all I am a Gemini. I always believed there is an angel and a devil in everyone. My devil would appear during my workouts. It felt so good to let it out. To not hurt anybody else but make myself better. To curse and say what I wanted to say without hurting anyone. Picking up those weights was the best decision I made and I will never regret it. I loved the physical pain of workouts which cured my emotional pain and made me feel better. Everybody is fighting their own demon, and I fought mine. But I did not want to stop there. I decided to eat a little more healthy and fuel my body right. After a while I noticed a difference in energy and my overall health. I focused on myself. I could see the improvement and enjoyed the results. Some might find drinking or smoking to ease their pain but I use exercise to ease mine and make myself better. Exercise and workouts are my new addiction, and that is something I am not ashamed of. 

© Gerardo Contreras. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.