Vantage Point: Long road back to Unadilla was paved with hard knocks

It was a life-changing moment for a young man from Otsego County. He regained consciousness writhing on a train platform in Queens, clad only in a Garfield T-shirt that didn’t quite cover his private parts.

He opened his eyes and saw a handful of cops with guns drawn standing over him. He had no recollection of how he got there. Officers scraped him off the platform, and shipped him off to the Jamaica Psychiatric Hospital.

Meet a 32-year-old man who wants to be called Unity. He is bamboo stalk thin with luminously fair skin that appears not to have been exposed to sunshine since Luke Combs had a hit with "Beer Never Broke My Heart."

“I grew up in the same house I currently live in, in the basement of my parents’ house out in the woods of Unadilla,” he said. Unity said he’s back home because his mother rescued him from the psych ward.

Unity’s life is a long and winding road. “As soon as humanly possible I left Unadilla,” he said. First to Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Then he drifted to New York City, followed by a hippie commune for gays and lesbians in Tennessee, and then a brief respite with his sister in South Carolina.

But Unity had wanderlust. He thumbed a ride back to New York. “I started playing music on the street,” he said. “I was not paying rent, crashing on couches.” Then he took off, this time with stays in New Orleans, Austin and, while in Vermont, life on the road grew stale.

“I was sick of bumming around, not having any money, smelling bad and not having enough to eat,” he said. What to do? Unity decided to go to the University of Chicago and get a Ph.D. in literary criticism.

Things went off the rails at UChicago. Unity got addicted to drugs. “First it was alcohol and marijuana,” he said. “Then pills.” In an effort to combat student depression in a high-stakes academic environment, school doctors prescribed meds such as Prozac.

“I don’t want to pass the blame for my own choices on anybody else, but there is a culture at many universities to prescribe drugs to students,” he said, adding that they do it to prevent suicides.

Next the charming young man from Unadilla made a decision to take a walk on the wild side. “I decided I was a woman and lived that way for the next two years. It was a hurricane-level tailspin.”

This is when booze, pot and pills were not enough. “Some of the other drugs started to sneak in: cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy and heroin,” he said.

Unity was on the move again to places now lost in the fog of sex, drugs and electro-dance music. “I did a lot unsavory things,” he said. “I mostly made money as a prostitute with men.” He adds, “There was something about it that I liked. I’m not ashamed of anything I did.”

But drugs and high-risk sex took a toll. “By the end of a binge I was in a horrible state. I wanted to get out,” he said.

Something changed and he doesn’t know why. “I hit rock bottom, and then the ground below rock bottom dropped out, and I fell further down into another lower level of hell,” he said.

Many addicts never reach a point where they’re ready to quit drugs. “I don’t know why that wasn’t the path ordained for me. The only word I can use to describe the reason is grace,” he said.

Unity said he kicked drugs cold turkey. “I have no desire at all, which is crazy because that was all I desired for a long time,” he said.

He said he enjoys living with his family, collects disability because of mental illness, writes stories and works at a quirky Oneonta coffee shop next to a strip club on Main Street. He’s come a long way from that train platform.

And the future? He wants to enroll in BOCES to learn plumbing. “I’m looking forward to starting a thriving plumbing business,” Unity said.

Don Mathisen is a journalist living in Oneonta. Email him at onewsdm@gmail.com.

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