Dear Reader,

Let me begin by saying that it is my absolute privilege to share this story with you. The fact that you will spend some of your precious time reading it means a great deal more to me than you will ever know. This is something very personal to me, something that I deeply connect with, something that in many respects I have lived. Writing this book took me the best part of twelve months, but in actuality, I have been writing it for close to thirty years. I have faced many serious challenges in my life, and several times I have felt defeated enough to want to fly the white flag. I am sure that you have felt like that from time to time, and it is that visceral connection all of us humans have that motivated me to write this story.

You see, our reality is shaped by our thoughts and what we surround ourselves with. When the sadness comes, our thoughts make us feel so alone that we begin to think we are the only ones in the world feeling that way. This is the reason we isolate and stay away from those that don’t seem to comprehend, those people who tell us to “get over it” or “snap out of it.” That is why we get drunk and high and we hurt ourselves, as a punishment for being so broken–more broken than anyone else. My purpose with this book was not only to show you that we are all connected in some way, but also to prove to you how special every single one of us is, no matter how “broken” we think we are. For a while I had not been able to put into words what my true motive was for writing this book. I knew that I wanted a story that would move people, a story that many couldrelate with. But I still couldn’t put my finger on it. Then, a few months back, someone asked me what I wanted most when I was going through my depression, and after thinking about it for a while, I figured it out. What I am trying to accomplish with this story is to help you see that you are not alone.

What you are about to read is fictional, but very real as well. It is a collection of events that may or may not have happened in some fashion or another. As it applies to me, yes, I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who spent over ten years destroying himself and the ones around him. Yes, I was hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals more than once, and I spent a long time trying to figure out what was wrong with me. My depression crippled me since I was a child, and without the right treatment or understanding, it made my life close to unbearable. My anxiety stopped me from living life, from enjoying the world, from seeing things in full color, and from chasing after my happiness. It was a very hard road to navigate, and one that I hope never to go through again.

The characters that you will meet in this story are a representation of the real struggles that a lot of us have gone through, and many of us still are. They are, sometimes, combinations of several people that I met in my journey. These people have meant a great deal to me, because they are the embodiment of the flawed human condition, the physical and mental glitches that affect us all in one way or the other. My intention by writing this story is not to paint anyone with any condition in a negative way; my purpose is to show you in some way how we are all the same, no matter what illness plagues us every single day. Our humanity supersedes any physical and mental blemish; love seems to flourish inside every one of us, one way or the other. I want you to take this into consideration when you think negative thoughts, or when you don’t see the precious light at the end of the tunnel. We all must explore deep within ourselves and find the greatness that we all possess. Then we need to exploit that greatness and learn how to truly love ourselves. This will allow you to have a constant influx of love without the need of external sources. This, in my opinion, is the true way to happiness.

But I know this is easier said than done; heck, it took me over ten years to begin making progress, and I still have a long way to go. I do, however, want to tell you this, and if you feel the way I once did, I want you to bookmark this page so you can come back to it every time you need: You are not alone; you are not the failure that you think you are. You are not what other people want to convince you that you are. I know that it is hard, and I know that the strength to go on is sometimes fleeting, and it feels like it would be easier to give up. Easier, yes, worth it, no. Believe me. When you learn to see life the way you are supposed to see it, beautiful, with bad things and all, worth living, a privilege even, it will be a remarkable and extremely valuable experience. You are not alone; I cannot stress that enough. You are not the only one who does not see the colors of the world. I know how hard it can be to convince yourself of that. But your love is right there, deep inside you, not with the people who judge you and bully you and ignore you and play with your emotions. They are empty, and because they are empty they cannot share anything with you, because they don’t have a thing to give. Don’t feel sadness over the blind eyes that don’t get to see the real you, or of the fearful hearts that would rather judge you and put you down so they don’t have to deal with who they really are. Let your love and acceptance and uniqueness come from within you. Learn, little by little, to enjoy the things you like, for you and only you. Learn to see life through your eyes and no one else’s. This, I promise you, will dramatically affect you in a positive way.

Is it just that easy? No, it isn’t, unfortunately. Sometimes the chemicals in your brain will not let you progress the way you should. I am still tied to a daily dosage of medication, and let me tell you something, for that I feel really blessed. I feel fortunate that I was able to have an accurate diagnosis and to find something that could alleviate the pain just enough for me to be able to move forward. The medication is not an enemy; it is often necessary and it shouldn’t make you feel ashamed. We all need a strong support system to succeed, and the meds are an important part of that equation. If you are one of those people who need them, like me, make sure that you stay on schedule and you take them the right way, and you will eventually see a dramatic impact on the way you feel.

If you are a family member or a caregiver of someone with an addiction problem or a mental illness, let me say, first and foremost, that you deserve a standing ovation for your strength, courage and everything you do for your loved one. Caregivers do not get the credit they deserve, yet they are there, fighting hard in the trenches every single day. I know that you too feel like giving up some days, and you might even feel guilty about thinking that way. Don’t. You are an expression of overwhelming effort and sacrifice. You do what you do for love and responsibility, and the fulfillment of your duty makes you an exemplary human being, one that should be celebrated and acknowledged. You also are not alone. Many caregivers are fighting the battle every day, and managing it to see the good things through all the pain. I have such an admiration for people like you that it brings me to tears, tears of pride and deep respect. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again.

I hope this story touches you in some way and allows you to learn a little more about yourself. I hope that it makes you feel a little more understood, and that it gives you a little more hope for the future. Don’t think that everything you are going to read will have a perfect ending. This is life we are talking about, not a fairy tale. But even through the sometimes dark and cruel reality, a beam of light seems to shine through, every time. Look for it, look for it within you and in the pages of this book. I promise you that you will not be disappointed if you do.

So, as I said before, what a privilege it is for me to share these words with you, to be right there, in your home, sharing something that I connect with so deeply, something that you may be able to relate with as well. It is my responsibility, however, to share what took so much time and pain and suffering to create, to make you laugh and make you cry, and give you hope, and for a moment, let you escape and connect with a version of your own self, encouraging you to find acceptance and hope, and love, all within you, as those things are already there.

I sincerely hope that is the case.

Jay Chirino