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Neighborhood Club soccer, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 1996, age 4

Austen was born almost 26 years ago on September 26, 1991.  I was born in October and always considered Fall to be my favorite season, but since he died in November of 2014, I think I prefer Spring now. I can appreciate the yellows, oranges and reds and the Indian summer days that tease us to forget about jackets and sweaters, but there are too many memories to contend with – his birth, his death and all that occurred in between those 23 years, floating up to the surface of my consciousness. Yes, I am grateful for the memories, even the not-so-good ones, but I still struggle with how Austen struggled during his last 5-6 years, how he put up a valiant fight trying to keep persevering with his life in order to beat the demon that haunted him.  In his ‘Journey Through Sobriety’ at 7 months sober he wrote:

I feel a little better, I talked about my cravings with my friends and got to hang out with them and kick it.  I still am feeling overwhelmed and very anxious.  I don’t know… I can’t risk my addiction.  It creeps up on you.  I can’t ignore it and not treat it for a week.  It doesn’t ever take time off. It’s always watching and waiting with bated breath. Ready to jump on me when it gets the chance.  Austen Berj Brooks, September 19, 2014

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Austen playing for Vardar Soccer Club in Michigan, age 17

Lately, I think about the concepts of destiny and legacy – finding and fulfilling a purpose before we die (fulfilling our individual destiny) and what we leave behind. Austen did not believe that life is predetermined:

Things may happen for a reason but that is just the universe expressing itself with perfect creativity and spontaneity.  That’s just how the universe meanders through the channels of life. One day I’ll be able to fully appreciate what I have here.  Of course I’m not satisfied.  There is so much more to be, do, think, and feel.” Journey Through Sobriety, May 23, 2014

From the day he was born, like all of us, Austen began forming his destiny – being, doing, thinking and feeling.  His sensitive nature and natural inquisitiveness grew into an empathetic intelligence, and his physical energy and persistence grew into athletic prowess.  At a young age, he seemed to have an understanding of the meandering universe and the twists and turns of life.  Here is a poem he wrote in 2009 during his first semester at Indiana University (age 18) already (unbeknownst to us) addicted to drugs:

Don’t ever doubt
Don’t count me out
I will be there
One day I’ll care

I point to south
When I should go north
I look bad now
But hope is not gone

The day must be embraced
Despite problems I have faced
A new day could begin
When the old day comes to an end

And on this new day all will be well
All will be balanced, in heaven and hell
I will be smiling like a limitless child
Looking back at the life I compiled

Precious life giving earth
Why can’t we treat you what you are worth?
And beautiful impossible life
Why do I live you like nothing’s all right?

What an experience is all I can say
I lived it, I woke up every day
I smelled and heard and loved
One day I will remember what was

Life is a gift and I can’t forget it
But life will get to you if you dare let it
What a journey one day I will say
“I never thought it would turn out this way”

Austen Berj Brooks, October 18, 2009

Compiling a life, that’s what we do during our lifetimes, no matter how long or short.  We take the good with the bad, the beauty with the impossible, and we meander through, creating our legacies, fulfilling our destinies, hoping, loving. In memory, forever, of Austen Berj Brooks.

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‘Looking Back At The Life I Compiled,’ Chicago Botanic Garden, September 18, 2017, ©2017 Suzanne Sahakian|SuzanneSahakianPhotography

 

 

 

“Looking Back At The Life I Compiled,” by Austen Berj Brooks

Time To Switch Lanes

Austencloseup I love this photo of Austen, his maturing face, his direct gaze, his calm and cool demeanor.  He was sensitive, caring, loving, intelligent, thoughtful and reflective.  He was also addicted to opiates – not by choice, not by will, not intentionally.  In his second, focused attempt at sobriety, he attained a clarity and maturity I had not seen in him before – he was 22 years old, had graduated from Indiana University, and he wanted to get on with his life – he wanted a ‘normal’ life but knew he could never have the kind of normality he was seeking.  It would have to be a new ‘normal’, one created to fit his circumstances and to allow him to thrive.  ‘Happiness is right around the corner,’ he wrote in recovery.  He never stopped appreciating the natural beauty and loveliness of the world.  And that is where I feel closest to him – outdoors, whether standing on a balcony or taking a morning walk – he is there in the gentle wind, the fresh flowers, the majestic mountains, the vast blue sky, the stars on a clear night, the endless beach, the wandering trail – that is where I feel his warm, encouraging presence.

From his ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ 3 months sober:

Everything is ok.  No it’s better than that.  Still, driving around on a summer day seeing all the young people going out with their friends, buying beer, having normal lives, I felt a little left out of it.  Like I’m missing out and like I will have to miss out for the rest of my life.  Like I need some drugs to truly feel the beauty of summer time.  This is just not true.  I just have to open my mind up to my surroundings and these new emotions.  I don’t need any drugs to be me.  I don’t need to change my consciousness into something different, I just have to expand what I already have.

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Lake Michigan at the beach in Evanston, IL, taken by Austen on May 26, 2012, with my Nikon D50.

 Tomorrow I want to walk by the beach, breathe in the ocean, smell the warm air, think about existence, smile and know that I’m right where I am supposed to be.  . . . Drugs are an immediate dead end for me.  I’m not interested in giving away all that I have.  It’s kind of funny that I even need to continue having this discussion.  . . . My addiction brought me to my knees, then it swept me deep underground, then it went after my soul.  There is no going back for people like me.

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Taken by Austen on June 29, 2012, with my Nikon D50.

I’ll always find things that are not perfect about me.  I don’t have to be perfect in any facet of my life.  I know I’m good looking, good natured, smart, intuitive, mature, wise.  I know I am a beautiful soul.  I just need to go out and be me.

I can find love within my self and the world.  I love the smell at night, I love that I struggled and came out stronger.  I love the sun and the trees.  Happiness is right around the corner.

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At one of the Evanston parks, taken by Austen on May 26, 2012, with my Nikon D50.

A little more swag.  Some new clothes.  Some new goals.  A new outlook.  More positive, more sure of myself.  Getting their everyday.  . . . My vision is no longer clouded.  My Achilles heel is finally healing.  I’ve always been destined to be exceptional.

It’s time to switch lanes and start really speeding.  Passing these people and leaving them in the past.     Austen Berj Brooks, June 7, 2014

 

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Along Lake Michigan at one of the beaches in Evanston, IL, taken by Austen with my Nikon D50.

 

 

 

The Beauty Is In The Struggle

The excerpt below is from Austen’s ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ a journal he started in 2014 as he valiantly dealt with his addiction and depression. He understood that ‘suffering is a key tenant of life,’ that  ‘life is something to endure.’ He saw the beauty and magic in the struggle.  He tried to ground himself in the present, to keep focused on the things that matter.  He believed in a greater universal construct and the temporary, impermanent nature of things. He saw the grandness of life and the limitless opportunities.  In short, he saw the big picture.  From May 29 and May 31, 2014:

I walk through the pitch black with only a candle, and it cannot burn forever.

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‘Cloudy,’ photo taken by Austen in downtown Chicago, posted on his Instagram account on September 16, 2014. 

I’m starting to glow. … My wealth of experience is a guiding light, and my distant knowledge and wisdom is a limitless well. Go forth into the darkness Austen.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  Beauty and spirituality.  That’s all I care about.  Enjoy yourself.  Literally enjoy being you.  You are one in a few billion.  The only one of your kind.  Life is good.  Or it could be.  It’s close to being the start of a magical ride toward everything I want.  Life is something to endure though.  Acceptance of this fact is essential.  It doesn’t mean one can’t live and love beautifully, it just means suffering is a key tenant of life.  The beauty is in the struggle.

The depression is not me.  I exist outside of these bodily defects.  My soul is untouchable, though the drugs tried to take a bit out of it like a great white shark.  My soul is strong, it is weaving itself back together, just as my brain heals.  It was exposed but the light never went out.  I never lost track of me, Austen.  As long as I have my intelligence, love and a beautiful spirit, I can make this work.  Every day is another opportunity.  Every second is another time that I can find a way to start existing in the moment.  What happened yesterday is meaningless, we have this moment and the next one and that is it.

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‘Reflecting,’ photo taken by Austen from our Evanston condo (with a view of Lake Michigan) and posted to his Instagram account on June 17, 2014.

There will be problems until the end.  I have to persevere.  Again, this is part of life.  An integral part of the journey.  One day I will move on into the infinite soul of the universal construct.  But today is for shouldering the burden and smiling in the face of agony. … I accept this and continue to live. …  It’s all temporary.  That’s what makes life beautiful.  Who cares?  You get fucked up on the journey, but it’s not forever.  I will one day die and return to where I originated.  Why not enjoy what I have?  Why not jump into the deep end?  I can swim after all, and if I can’t then I’ll drown until I grab a life raft.  Fill me with love and bless me with health.

Austen Berj Brooks, May 29 & 31, 2014

Fill Me With Love

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I took this photo of the clouds in and around the Catalina Mountains in Tucson in early January 2017. I’m calling it ‘Fill Me With Love.’  When Austen came to Tucson, he would always look up at the mountains and say he wanted to climb to the top. This photo, like all my photos, is dedicated to my son Austen with love.  ©2017 Suzanne Sahakian

 

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‘I walk through the pitch black with only a candle, and it cannot burn forever.’ Austen Berj, May 29, 2014.

 

 

 

 

“Chatter,” a Rap by Austen Berj Brooks

We are coming up on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving – the day Austen died in 2014.  The actual date is November 25, which falls on the day after Thanksgiving this year, but it’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving that most hits home with his family.  Not a good day to remember – probably the worst day in each of our respective lives.  This year on the 25th, I plan to put up a Christmas tree, put the wreath on the door, and generally bring some magic and cheer into the house. Whatever else I do will write its own script – you never know how you are going to feel until it’s upon you.

Overriding that sentiment, however, is the gratefulness I feel to have access to Austen’s thoughts, ideas, creativity and words. It’s a part of him still here, left behind, giving us insight into his life (and ours), his world, his struggles, his triumphs, his goals, his humanity, his spirit. It is in that spirit that I share the following rap with you.

“Chatter” was published by Austen via YouTube on February 10, 2013, when he was a senior at Indiana University.  I could not find the written words anywhere, so I have endeavored to transcribe it.  He called it “Chatter” and set the words to beats by J Dilla. On YouTube, he used 3 photos, which I have incorporated in the text.  I add a photo at the end, which I took in Paris in March 2016 and call “Chatter.” 

Here is the original music version of “Chatter” from February 2013, followed by the words:

Chatter

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Photo of Austen taken in Paris by Suzanne in March 2011.

kick back relax
these raps will make you relapse
on old school tracks
hitting notes like a sax
silky smooth like honey
we get stuck like wax
with the facts to adapt
got the world in my lap
get the hugs, throw the daps
what I love, get it back
I’m the opposite of wack
been a student not a truant
graduated to the stacks
but you know about that
went from zero to the max
I’m a hero for the mass
and my struggles and my tax
might of doubled from the last

when in trouble break the glass
I’ll come running like the flash
I get high without the grass
and the lack is clearly best
and the music let me grasp why I got a second chance
almost threw away like trash
when I threw away my stash
but my using in the past
had enough and that’s that

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Photo of Austen taken in Paris by Suzanne in March 2011.

now the only time I crash….

now, why
check my hit list
murder without a witness
hit it out the park
going home like Odysseus
nothing but darkness in my past
now lets find a give
no more waiting, contemplating
it’s my time to live
no more waking and then baking
even wine and cigs
no complaining
past abating, ready to begin
got the world in my sights
happy like a kid

from now until forever I’ll be running this
everything I ever wanted
ain’t bout money bitch

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Photo taken by Austen in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, December 5, 2010.

peace

Austen Berj Brooks, February 10, 2013

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Suzanne’s photo “Chatter”taken in Paris, March 2016, dedicated to ABB.

‘Going Along With The Rhythm Of Life’ – Happy 25th Birthday Austen

Austen was born on September 26, 1991.  He would have turned 25 today. November will mark the 2nd-year anniversary of his death from an opiate overdose.  I went back to his ‘Journey Through Sobriety’ to read the entries he wrote on and shortly before his 23rd birthday two years ago. At that point, he had been sober for over 6 months. Even though his life was short, he has left his own indelible mark upon the world. He is sorely missed, especially for what he would be saying now about the politics, sports and social unrest in the world.  Today, I celebrate his birth and his life.  I am grateful for his existence, only wish he could have stayed longer.  From ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ September 24 and 26, 2014:

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Graduation from Indiana University in 2013.

Being a human being is not a boring or stale existence.  It’s deeply historic, intoxicatingly spiritual.  There is so much to my existence.  I can embrace it and turn my back to the past.  Not just the drugs but all the shallow thinking that accompany that life.  I’m too real to be walking around lost in my head feeling that something is wrong with me, that I can’t truly exist.

The faith that things will get better.  I tend to say, no that’s not how the world works, it’s random, bad things happen to good people and so on and so forth.  But this shit is not so basic, and nobody here really understands what’s going on.  I mean there are clearly millions of layers of existence occurring all at once, which we don’t have the ability to perceive or comprehend.  I want to think clearly.  I want to overcome the hole that I’ve been in.  Giving in to my addiction would be catastrophic, it’s not a small mistake.  It’s a big mistake with huge repercussions. . . .

I’m the illest, I’m the coolest, I’m the realest.  Being a good positive person is what I am about.  I have been chosen as a part of the universe.  I’ve been given a seat in the amphitheater of existence.  I still don’t know what God is.  I still don’t feel alone though.  I still have so many questions.  The spirit of the universe seems to be an explanation of what is here with me.  We are all alive within one singular thing.  This thing has a rhythm, a heartbeat, a soul, a depth, it is actual truth.

I’m not here to waste away.  I’m here to seek, to learn, to exist with positivity and greatness.  I’m not here to be an insignificant speck.  I’m here to love myself and spread love to those around me. I’m done arguing, it’s over, there’s no more self-sabotage.  I’m never going back.  I’m never giving up.

Everyday from now until I die will be spent seeking spirituality.  Not needing things in the world.  Going along with the rhythm of life.  Flowing down the river and smoothly evading the rocks and impediments.  Treat your body like the holy temple that it is. You only get one.  This is my one shot to do this.  I’m done fucking around.

I don’t want to be the jester or the clown, but I don’t want to be the somber knight either. … I can’t control my moment to moment feelings and behaviors.  Days are too long and the dynamics are too complicated.  I can control certain factors though.  I can control my diet and my exercise habits.  I can control my breathing and my coffee and nicotine intake.  Austen…23 years old. . . .

What’s important is being real.  Not desperate, not helping people to get some positive attention, but being a real fucking person.  Creating actual thoughts, ideas, music. . . .  Everyday I am linked to the mystical and spiritual components of the universe whether I acknowledge them or not. I need to stop comparing every thought and moment to what I imagine I was like in the past.  This is who I am at this time in my life and it’s far from a shell of a former self.  I’m not the worst or the best.  I don’t have to save the world today.  I just have to exist within the moment and believe in myself.  What happened to genuine confidence. Confidence that is earned not inherited by an arrogant mind.  I know what I’ve been through and I know what I’ve accomplished.

The walls are an illusion.  The narrative is made up.  None of it is based in fact. Don’t live your life according to some aging rulebook . . . implemented by default when I was 15 years old.  It’s time to grow up.  Be positive toward yourself, no matter what – life is worth living.  We are not here to win awards and make money after all.
Austen Berj Brooks, September 24 & 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Austen Berj
Staying positive and strong and loving you always and forever in the rhythm of life.

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From ‘Spirit of the Butterfly – Delight,’ Suzanne Sahakian 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Relationships Are What You Remember’

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From ‘Spirit of the Butterfly – Peace,’ Suzanne Sahakian 2016

Relationships are what you remember.
Love is what breaks through the barriers.
Peace is knowing who you are and
understanding you are exactly
where you need to be.
Austen Berj Brooks, July 26, 2014

What is a life? A life is precious and complex,  a composite of many things.  Physically it has a start and a finish, but on another level, it has no boundaries – first, because you never stop caring or thinking about the one who is not here, and you certainly never stop loving him and, second, because all lives leave a legacy. The lasting effect a person has on us, the day-to-day dealings he had with us, the feelings, perceptions, thoughts, ideas that the person shared with us – those live on. Even more so when those reflections are expressed in writing.  I am grateful to have Austen’s words.  A life, a legacy that lives on and can be shared.  The lovely gem above is from his ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ dated July 26, 2014, when he was 22 years old and almost 5 months sober.  A young man reaching for the stars, reflecting, earnest in his hopes, wise for his years:

I want to believe that the sky is the limit. . . . I want to be successful, I want to keep growing and taking off like a rocket. I want girls in my life. Cute girls, interesting girls, dark girls, light hearted girls, fun girls, thoughtful girls. . . .  I’m determined to overcome any obstacle, push through any barrier. Reach for the stars, taste greatness. Average just won’t do, pretty good is not enough. I want to find someone who understands me and who I can be myself with. I want my art to become something I can truly be proud of. I want to be an honest, understanding, funny, confident person. I want to be responsible and reliable. I just want things to start to come together in my life. I am so tired of waiting for it to finally happen. All I can do is try to be myself and be a good person. All I can do is keep working hard, stay sober, stay positive and strive for greatness. . . .  I just need to keep things straight. I just need to stay on top of things. I just need to find that groove where I just follow the natural order of things and fly through life like a slalom skier with speed and precision. . . .

I need to elevate myself.  I need to enlighten myself.  Don’t stoop down to the level of the world.  Stay above the storms and turbulence.  I have to give myself up to the universal forces that govern all of us.  I have to look for the more difficult answer, the difficult path.  After all, willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly, this is the path I have followed in my life.  The path of suffering and hard realities.  Big questions and hard answers. There is now light at the end of the tunnel, but I continue to panic and worry that I’m not acting right or not heading in the right direction. This is an illusion.  I want to be back to being positive about my life and where it’s heading, after all, why shouldn’t I be?  I just need to slow down, reflect, center myself.  I want to feel happiness and wonder and amazement.  At least some of the time.  The truth of life lends itself to these emotions as well as their counterparts.  If I can make meaningful progress.  If I can have good relationships.  If I can have fun.  If I can stay positive that I won’t be alone forever. Life is good.

You have been blessed with so much in this unfair world.  The most important thing you have been given a second chance.  Even if your world is not right where you want it to be at this moment, you now have the chance to get there. Almost 5 months of sobriety.  Who would ever thought.  It hasn’t sunk in fully.  Most things never do.  Life is too fleeting.

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Photo of Austen taken by his friend Reid Fragel in 2009.

Relationships are what you remember.  Love is what breaks through the barriers. Peace is knowing who you are and understanding you are exactly where you need to be.

If I can love myself then I will no longer need someone to love me and eventually they will enter the picture naturally and we will be a sum greater than our individual parts.
                                                                                                                  Austen Berj Brooks, July 26, 2014

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From ‘Spirit of the Butterfly’  Suzanne Sahakian 2016

                                                                                                             

                                                                               

‘I Need to Stay Calm and Float Along’

Austen started his ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ on May 15, 2014, 71 days sober.  In other posts, I have shared excerpts from his journal in no particular order.  I am now going through the journal chronologically and selecting excerpts to share using my editorial judgment.  Austen had a keen sense of life and of his particular situation. His words are honest and uplifting, describing the human spirit and condition with a clarity and maturity unusual in one so young. This entry is from May 21, 2014, 77 days out.

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‘Saturday Morning in the Tuileries,’ Paris, 2016, SuzanneSahakianPhotography.

I walk the earth alone, I can be close with others, I can love, care for, and sleep with someone, but they will never be as close to me as I am to myself.  . . . So, my relationship with myself is the most important one in my life.  As well as I feel I know myself, there is still a huge amount to uncover and discover about myself.  To figure these things out, and ultimately figure out myself, I have to be willing to be introspective as well as honest with myself and others.  I have to align my actions with my values.  If somebody doesn’t like me that that is their problem, not mine.  All I can control is my own actions.  I don’t need others’ approval and I don’t want to have ulterior motives for my behaviors.

That is what recovery is about.

I’m only 22.  I don’t need any substances, nicotine or caffeine.  Just purity and spirituality.  It’s all within me.  All the wisdom and knowledge of how to be myself and that’s all that matters.  It’s not for anyone else either.  I’m not getting myself right to find my soul mate, although that will come if I get to where I need to be.  I’m doing this because I was put on this earth, in this body, and I have one chance to experience this amazing existence.  With everything that’s happened you have to think I wasn’t put here by coincidence.  I was given a chance not a promise.  That means maybe I’m not here for a reason but I was put here with the potential to fulfill my life.  To be.  To exist and to love, and that’s an opportunity that I’m not willing to relinquish.

There is so much beauty in life and within my self.  We all get used to it, we adapt to it, but it’s there regardless.  The sky, the stars, the sun, the grass, the trees, my mind, my thoughts, my understandings.  Finally, I’m in a position to find out who I truly am.  I’ve done a lot of work already over these 77 days.  77 days of sobriety is a long fucking time.  The longest amount of time that I have ever had since I became addicted.  It’s not great yet, but I’m healing and I will continue to heal.  Everyday is an opportunity to get better.  Once I’m there. . . no, not once I’m there, because I’ll never be perfect and I can start to fulfill my dreams tomorrow.  I want to be a writer, a rapper, a musician.  That’s my dream.  I can pursue that.  I also want to be a psychologist or an addiction counselor, but those are secondary goals.  My brain will continue to heal.  I can write, I can practice.  One step at a time.  But it’s okay to be excited.  It will be exciting.  If I can get this right.  If I can get myself right, and I most definitely can as long as I have the right attitude.  Other people give good advice and I would be wise to listen to it, but honestly, I’m the only one who can fix this.  I need to stay calm and float along.  Sometimes the current will pull me up or down, but I have to just paddle the best that I can with the best possible boat I can create.  Obsession and addiction are the abnormalities that could cause me to capsize.  But only if I let them.  Austen Berj Brooks, ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ May 21, 2014.

 

Be A Shining Light Because…The World Needs More People Like That

SOMETIMES we lose sight – it’s easy to do in the daily flutterings of life. What’s real, what’s important, what can wait, what cannot.  Here are some encouraging, lifting words from Austen; although he wrote them to himself, they are generally applicable to living a good, fulfilled, solid-citizen, wonderful life.  May his words bring a positive glow to your day and perhaps a little inspiration. 

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“Butterfly At Rest,” Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2016.

From Austen’s “Journey Through Sobriety”:

Sometimes I lose sight of the beauty.  Make music, be exceptional, do things differently, think one step ahead.  See yourself as a viable, flawed but worthwhile human being.  Attractive, thoughtful, intelligent. Ready to take on any challenge without fear.  Courage and enthusiasm.  Once you get a hold of who you are and what you have to offer you can really start dictating things in your life.  Not controlling things, but just making informed choices and decisions.

Lift yourself up.
Dream big.
Think without limitations.
Mature, unflustered, confident, carrying myself with dignity and self-respect. Creative, interesting, different.

 * * * *

You have to be patient with other people as well as yourself.  You have to do things you don’t want to do because the right thing is not always the easy thing, in fact, it’s usually the harder choice.  Deciding not to get angry or going out of your way to help someone.  Eventually all of these positive actions add up.  They seem small and insignificant at the time, but in the bigger picture they are extremely meaningful. Being a kind, good, positive person is the path I want to walk.  It has been the path I have wanted to follow for a long time.  Every since I saw what the world was really about and what actually exists within the darkness.  I need to be a shining light because that is who I am and because the world needs more people like that.

Austen Berj Brooks, ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ July 23, 24, 2014.

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Austen in Tucson, 2011: a ‘shining light’ indeed.

 

“I Will Be Confident And I Will Be Colorful”

RedFlowersOpiate addiction and depression. It may not be clear which one comes first, but at some point in the process they become intertwined and feed off one another. So, it was with Austen.

He writes that he first took opiates when he was 15 years old, probably sometime in 2007 before or during his junior year of high school, derived most likely from the medicine cabinets of his friends’ parents. Prescription drugs prescribed for pain. He took the drugs when his brain was still forming, when he was a sensitive, impressionable teenager, when he had only begun to experience the vast space of this world and his life within it. Opiates relieved his sadness and loneliness, gave him a euphoric, but temporary, happiness, and forever preyed upon his soul.  (Red flowers photo taken by Austen at the lakefront in Evanston, IL, May 26, 2012.)

Austen considered himself ‘an addict.’ That label was reinforced for him during his rehabilitations and treatments and in the college courses he took as a psychology major. He spent at least six years fighting his addiction and depression, with cycles of ups and downs, valiantly dealing with the constant warring factions of demons and gladiators. He used his intellect to research and understand what was happening to him. He sought help, he used his words and raps to describe his experience, he appealed to a higher order, he fought to be optimistic that he could turn things around, and he felt he was on the verge of doing so.  In July 2012, he wrote, “I like the pieces I have, even if my vices and demons overpower them at times.  I can win, I will succeed.”

I have paired some photos Austen took in late May 2012 with excerpts he wrote in the summer of 2012 about his ‘self’, a self that was synonymous with being ‘confident’ and ‘colorful.’ He was on a visit home from Indiana University before the start of the summer semester. I had loaned him my older Nikon D50, and he and I took an afternoon walk with our cameras.  I discovered the photos on the D50 after Austen died.

These photos were taken by Austen in a colorful alley we visited behind the Prairie Moon Restaurant in Evanston, Illinois on May 26, 2012:

Dumpster

“My self must be celebrated and not shunned.  My belief [is] that there is a force that lives within all of us and within the universe, a force of love and acceptance and great strength, that will help me conquer that which seems insurmountable.  I will be confident and I will be colorful because above all else I will BE MYSELF.”  ABB, July 4,  2012.

Birds

“I am about to be 21 years old, I can believe in positivity and hope; I can find the missing pieces of my puzzle.  I have a good sense of humor and I need to use it, you can’t be scared while you’re laughing and life should be fun and joyful as much as [is] humanely possible.”  ABB, August 26, 2012.

Colorwall

“I have to find myself.  Austen. Nice person, thoughtful, funny, sensitive in certain ways, generous, non-judgmental, open-minded, a writer, athlete, cool and unique, a dreamer, intelligent, self-aware, down-to-earth, loving, questioning, and deep. The sea of my soul is indeed many miles, with many intricacies and detours, but I never have lost sight of it, never started believing my own bullshit, never deceiving myself, because I knew what kind of person I am deep down.  In a sea of shallow minds, I refuse to be drawn in even when at times I am an ardent consumer of mass media.” ABB, August 29, 2012.

“I have to be in the moment, I have to be the moment, I have to be as real as real can be.  Look up always.”  Austen Berj Brooks, August 29, 2012.

That’s Life Though

AustenTaxi3-12-12As time goes by, I keep going back to Austen’s writings and find that I am able to read the words now more slowly, more carefully, more calmly, not afraid to breathe them in and let them flow out on their own accord. The excerpt below is from a 20-page document entitled ‘Writing,’ that Austen created on September 5, 2012 and added to in 2013, while he was a student at Indiana University.  It is not clear when he wrote this passage and the poetic lyrics within, but they are laced with tenderness, resignation, and a feeling of resurrection. And then here are the little gems like, “Inadequacy demands action not satiation of sadness.” He ends the passage with the last line from Bob Dylan’s song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’  – “When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose.” I am happy to share this with you and to share my love for a beautiful boy with a luminous mind.

I may not be pure, but my intentions can remain that way. I was blessed with a soul that can feel, a blessing and a curse truly. I let it get out of hand in the past, I swerved into the ditch. My drifter soul is what I need now, my artful essence is what will save me, my expectations thrown out the window, my systems disestablished, the system disassembled. I just have to be me, I just have to live and whatever happens is the story and I accept it. What has already happened has taught me a million things, hurt me a million times, stole from me all the innocence and glee of youth at too young an age, but I am here now, I am here now. Tomorrow I will appreciate the little things, and approach with the eyes of an infant. There is good within me, that’s why I haven’t given up hope, or given into my worst impulses.

AustenWarwick3-12-12

Austen walking down W. 54th Street in New York City, March 12, 2012, on his Spring break from Indiana University.  We were staying at The Warwick hotel.

I’ve walked on the softest of streets and the rockiest of roads, I’ve swam in the darkness and laid in the cold, I’ve wondered and wished and waited without you, I’ve called into nothing with hatred and spite, I’ve been told that there’s things that should be left to the light. I’m just trying to live, but to live is to suffer.

I’m hurting, I’m really hurting.
The knife is sharp but not unfamiliar.
I’m crying I’m really crying.
Maybe dying the time moves faster and faster.
I’m talking over what I need to listen to.
My feeling is one in a billion.
The scale is grandiose.

There is no grand transformation.
The steps are bound to be bound by indignation.
A great leap forward’s met by a stretch of retardation
And I can’t see clear with the past in my eyes.
And I can’t hear you dear when all your words are replies.
But I’ll keep running even though this life I do despise.
Aint that dark, aint that cold.

AustenCentralPark3-12-12

Austen in Central Park in New York City, March 12, 2012.

That’s life though, that’s the brunt of it. The rest is now open. There isn’t nothing I can’t love. There isn’t a thing I can’t change. My heart’s still beating I tell you that much. I ain’t afraid, I ain’t afraid. Inadequacy demands action not satiation of sadness. When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose.
Austen Berj Brooks