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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.

 

 

 

‘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

                                                                                                             

                                                                               

Stand At The Junction Of Bliss & Insanity

I remember Austen texting me this photo he took of a snowy evening in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was a student at Indiana University. He later used the photo for a hand-made card he gave me on Christmas day, 2010 or 2011.

 As Christmas approaches, I miss his wish lists and links to possible gifts I could get him and those wonderful memories of he and his siblings padding downstairs at 2:00 am in the morning to see what Santa had brought them. Aside from getting gifts, he seemed to appreciate the magic of the season, the magic of the new blowing snow, of the colors in the night, of the feeling of being truly alive.

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

As 2015 comes to a close, words from Austen to take you through the holidays and into the new year with the force of ‘positivity’:

I am brimming with life, with creativity, spirituality, love and even greatness if I believe.  I can change my perceptions.  Nobody is going to love you and believe in you before you do.  It’s not for anyone else either.  It’s not to make someone jealous or outperform your peers. It’s because you know yourself.  You know that you are a person who is worth it. … If my internal world is positive, I can go forward without fear.  You can’t let your thoughts become so convoluted.  This is just a tactic.  Let your love out and breathe it back in.  Open your heart and your mind to the universe. Stand at the junction of bliss and insanity and be brave.
     Austen Berj Brooks, ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ June 23, 2014.