Life has a funny way of mapping itself out. You can take the obvious route and follow the road most traveled. Staying within the lines already painted for you, the lane you’re assigned to and abiding by all the signs with caution. The other route calls you to be a trailblazer and create the road others will follow. There’s also the possibility you can even be a little bit of both.
I believe, I'm both. Where I am today isn't exactly where I thought I'd be, but I couldn’t see my life going any other way.
I grew up in a one horse town south of Annapolis, Maryland. I always knew I would become something different. My brother, sister and I were raised by two incredible humans I’m blessed to call Mom and Dad. After many odd jobs, career shifts and a failed attempt at college I found myself working for The Department of Homeland Security. In the eyes of the world I had everything that would personify “success”. Great job, lavish apartment, cars, toys and a solid group of wonderful friends. No matter what I put behind me, or in front, I still found myself wanting. I always wanted to be an actor in films, for as long as I can remember. I allowed myself to have the world around me to keep me a the box. A box that I virtually created for myself. It was to keep me “safe”.
Over the years I accumulated many bad injuries, trying to fulfill my life with the excitement I was lacking. Of course, the excitement I was lacking was really a disguise for all the things I wanted for myself, but I was too afraid to pursue them.
In 2009, I had suffered really bad burns on my face and arms. These injuries kept me restrained in the hospital for several weeks.
It was in this time I realized what I needed for myself. It was time for things to change. Everything was looking positive, even inspiring. Until I got home. After several weeks of not being able to work, I found myself taking more and more painkillers. At this point it was no longer just to escape the physical pain, but this “poor me” sense of depression that started to take shape inside of me. I started abusing opiates, heavily. Taking north of 15-20 pills a day. Within months I was snorting them, selling them. Whatever I could do to escape, once again. Sure enough, the painkillers became more scarce as my addiction rapidly ascended. From there, I moved on to heroin. Days turned into months, months turned into years. I was now homeless, jobless and a shell of a man.
My mind was completely consumed with poison, leaving no room for anything else. It had gotten to the point where I started sleeping in my truck in the worst parts of Baltimore. From time to time, consciousness would chime in and I would remember the man I once was. More importantly, I remembered the man I wanted to be. But like anything else, those thoughts would flee once I stuck that needle back in my arm. Giving up is a scary place to be.
Overdosing wasn’t enough to spark anything within me to evoke change.
However, witnessing my friend overdose in my arms, did.
Amidst the daily cycle from crack house to crack house, slum streets to shooting galleries, and chasing the dragon, I had one single moment of clarity. It was time for change. I took whatever money I had left, and put myself on a bus to New York City. I enrolled myself into a year long rehabilitation center. Throughout that year, I experienced things that can’t simply be put into words. So many different universes colliding, so many different walks of life. Some came. Some completed the rehab. Some passed away. Not only did I get to learn so much about myself, but I got to sit back and listen. Listen to the songs of those around me. I got to feel the pain they felt, experience their experiences. Fear what they fear. Everyone from gang bangers to murderers to country boys to white collars. There, I got to see a world that many will never get the chance to.
After completing my year of rehabilitation, I spent some time doing my best to use my talents to help others. I wanted to serve. I was blessed to travel and live in other countries like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Jamaica and Mexico.
After several months of constructing shelters with the best team of people I could ask for, I came to some realizations. I thought I understood the world, but through my experiences I realized that I had miscalculated. When I saw people who had absolutely nothing, be happier than people who had everything was a culture shock. I went to these places to help them, but their spirits, their smiles, they helped me. One encounter in particular spoke to me. I met this older gentleman in Nigeria, who couldn't seem to communicate with me due to the language barrier but insisted on getting my attention. The man had something he was excited to show me. It was a dated, crumpled up post card with the Empire State Building on it with a greeting that read, “Welcome to New York!”
Apparently he had overheard me say that I lived in New York and wanted to show me this post card to confirm. Something hit me hard in that moment. He stood there with immense excitement. He could only comprehend fragments of my english while I explained what the city was like. A tear hit my cheek as I spoke. I thought to myself how incredibly blessed I am to live in a place where I get to see that building
Every. Single. Day.
A building, located in a place that this man will never see. An experience he has only been able to dream about time and time again. I arrived back in New York with a completely different outlook on life. From then, I was never the same.
I had a medical emergency that required a rather large operation after 5 years of being back in New York. It required several months of recovery, forcing me to move back home to Maryland. My life went from 100 miles a minute, to basically being on bed rest for 4 months. It was soul crushing. I lost myself, once again.
After several months of recovery, I was more active. Around that time, my grandfather down in Florida had suffered a minor fall and needed medical attention. He needed a caretaker. When I arrived, I did not expect the situation I walked into. My grandfather, although very loving toward me, is a very bitter individual. He suffers from several mental disabilities, as well as physical. He was only mobile with crutches, and at this point he was 100% wheelchair bound. Amidst all of that, he is an extreme hoarder and buried himself in one of the worst living situations I had ever seen. I ended up spending about 4 months down there cleaning, rebuilding his home, doing numerous repairs, cooking and above all else, getting to know him better. I always say all examples are good examples. They’re either a good example of how to be, or how not to be, to which made my experience very fruitful. I spent everyday with a man who blamed the world for everything.
He blamed everyone else for his mistakes and furthermore, in his eyes he did no wrong. I would sit in silence, grin and bear everything that came out of his mouth. He was a great father to my mother, a hardworking and VERY talented individual. Unfortunately, over time he decided to give up and allow himself to wither away. Toward the end of my stay something sparked in me. It was a feeling I had never felt before. A feeling that catapulted me into doing what I truly believed I was put on this earth to do. A few weeks before I left Florida, I decided it was time to get my shit together and move on. I landed back in Maryland, said all of my goodbyes, packed my car up and headed west. After an incredible “detour” through this beautiful country, I landed myself in Los Angeles, California.
Here I am, a little over a year later, and I have truly found happiness! I'm discovering what it feels like to love and appreciate myself. I’ve discovered that it's possible to forgive yourself for all the mistakes you’ve made and it's a process that I'm continually working on. I now work in film/tv production and when I’m not, I’m writing/acting wherever and whenever I can.
But above all else, I’m still listening. Listening to others around me, listening to myself, feeling my gut and going with it. In just this past year I have learned a lifetime’s worth of values. I’d like to share some of them with you:
You have to enjoy the bottom:
Cherish being on the ground floor. So many don’t want to risk being seen at their lowest point. I get it, but you have to constantly remind yourself that it's not about where you are, it’s about where you are going.
No more shame:
You can't shame or pity yourself for not being where you want to be in life. Those moments of feeling like you are at your lowest are exactly what you need to feel and experience. Allow yourself to feel pain, be broken down, don’t fear the bottom.
Have a foundation:
Structures that last are built on a solid foundation. If you think you can just start building yourself on the 30th floor, you’re going to fall and fall hard. Think of your goals and your career, as a fire. Take the time to put in the work, collect your wood, cut up the logs and build a structure the right way. That way the fire you’ve built will burn bright and give you warmth for a lifetime.
Be cautious of comfort:
Fear comfort. Sure, comfort and stability are nice. I truly believe, that we lose so much of ourselves when we find comfort and settle. We need to challenge ourselves daily. Risk being seen in all of the glory that we are.
It's OKAY to start over:
There is no shame in starting over. I have scars all over my body from the mistakes I’ve made. Including the track marks on my hands from addiction. I can assure you, dwelling in all of that will get me NOWHERE. I chose to start over. If you’re still breathing, you are still able to grow, you too are still able to “start over”.
Face your fears:
I encourage you to face your fears every single day. Because one day you'll wake up and you'll be where you want to be. So embrace the bottom because without it, you will never reach the top.
Nick Shoemaker, born in Annapolis, Maryland. Son of a Carpenter and my mother was a homemaker and is now a nurse. I have battled many things like self hate, depression, ADHD and a mild dyslexia that let into a drug addiction. I am now 5 years sober, and Currently living in Los Angeles, California. I have had the privilege to indulge in many outreach mission trips to places like Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mexico. Acting, directing and producing are the overall goal, but I am currently working in production as a coordinator. Life's too short, sky's the limit, you can fail pursuing a life you hate, so you might as well take a chance on something you love.