You Don’t have to Change Who You Are. Just Change the Way You Do It.

I went to the mall last week to buy the first button-down shirt of my adult life. It’s an example of what I’m saying here – I’m still the same person, but I’m changing how I present myself in some situations to gain a wider set of speaking engagements. But don’t worry, I’ll still be wearing my t-shirt and shorts most of the time!

That’s right, you don’t have to change who you are. To become the person you really want to be, you just have to change the way you do things.

Start by changing your outlook on life. Sometimes I hear people being self-destructive and saying things like “well, that’s just who I am” but you know, if what you’re doing is self-destructive, then it’s not really who you are. We don’t wake up and say to ourselves, “I want to be unhappy today” but we do often wake up and set no intention at all – that’s when life just happens to us and we get stuck in negative patterns.

If you’re feeling stuck and worn out, sad or angry, there’s only one thing you can change at first: what you intend to do that day. Set one positive intention every morning, or if you forget, start over in the afternoon.

I know how hard it is to even try when we’re feeling bad, but all I can tell you is what I did: try things until you finally find something that will lift me out of that headspace. It was hard at first to find outlets that lifted me up every time, but you have to try a bunch of stuff until you realize what it is that works for you. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Before I figured out what would get me out of my negative headspace, I used to self medicate by drinking every day. When I finally sobered up for a few days, I saw the world like I hadn’t in years, and one of the things I started doing was make videos to share my story. I found that it lifted me and other people up at the same time, and since then I’ve found other things that do the same thing, and now I’m happy a lot more than I’m not.

Some of the other things I hear people say are things like “I don’t like where I’m living.” Ok, maybe that’s the problem and maybe it isn’t, so it’s time to find out. If you don’t like wet Washington weather, then start putting plans in place to move next winter and see how you like it somewhere else.

If a job isn’t making you satisfied, then spend a half-hour every night looking for jobs in places where you feel you belong. If you’re like me and no one seems like they will hire you, do what I did and spend some time every week starting your own thing. It may or may not bring in the big bucks, but doing something I enjoy has been way more satisfying than what seemed like nothing at all.

Maybe you are burned out trying to please other people all the time. If it makes you happy, great, there’s nothing better than that, but if it’s burning you out, you do have to change the way you do it. People want to please other people so they tend to do what their friends or family wants them to do and it’s hard because those people care about you. People don’t want see that disappointment in their faces but at some point you got to say that this is my life and you have to make yourself happy because that should come first not other people’s expectations.

Feeling like you’re not a successful person? Again, you don’t have to “change who you are,” you just have to change what you’re doing. As humans we tend to always want more because we think that the more we have the happier we will be. We drown in wanting more and find ourselves working ourselves to death to get more. Especially if we see someone having a good time like smiling, being happy we almost want to join them because we want what that other person has. I often see people complaining about things when they have a house, have a partner, and are able to pay their bills so what I do is have them turn around and look at their house, look at their car and see the things that they own so they can see their success.

Wondering why other people seem successful? Well, a lot of people put on a fake facade for social media like putting “happily retired” on their social media accounts when they aren’t happy just retired. Social media has completely taken over our lives. Don’t get me wrong but social media has done a lot for people including myself. However what we have done is isolated ourselves and are confined to our devices. It’s got so bad where we don’t even know how to socialize anymore face to face. We got so comfortable talking behind screens, everything has gone virtual. It’s apart of living though to go outside and get moving that’s what life is or what it should be.

Down on Covid? Most people will never get pass this Covid stuff and some people was already negative before the pandemic and they just use Covid for something to blame. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have bad days and doesn’t mean you’re not going to be tired but there’s a difference between being tired and unhappy. When I was younger I really wanted to get an Xbox 360 so I would be able to play Halo. Of course my Father told me that I need to save up for it instead of pouting and complaining about it I started doing chores around the house and getting paid for it. I was getting so impatient and I wanted it, I had to have it but you know what a month later I had what I wanted.

There are probably a hundred examples of changing how you do things. Go for it, and you’ll live into the person you really are.

Let’s Talk About Local Neighborhood Issues

Join me at 6 pm Thursday for my next “Any Question” online gathering. This month, let’s talk about local issues! What’s up in your neighborhood? Click here to RSVP and click here for the zoom link.

Local neighborhood issues really get people worked up on social media nowadays, and it’s understandable and Facebook groups make it easy to share concerns affecting everyday life. Here in my home town of Puyallup, it’s always seemed like a tight community to me. We are hard working people, and when unfortunate things happen, people talk to each other about it because we feel like family. We want to be there for each other even when we disagree. Bottom line is we really care about our town and the people in it.

Crime & Safety

When a big crime happens it really affects the community and people talk. When the news stations come in from Seattle and Tacoma to report on these crimes, it’s a common occurrence to hear, “Hey, I know that guy” or “I always go by where that happened.” Or when somebody just hits another person’s mailbox, people we are posting about it to see if someone recognizes a car or got a pic of the license plate.

Car thefts and break-ins are pretty huge nowadays, and the community reacts as it should. In many cases, people use their vehicles for work, so when tools and stereos and other valuable items get taken, it’s a terrible thing because things aren’t cheap and people have to make a living.

The recent increase in crime makes the community feel unsafe, and when victims spend unnecessary amounts of time and money recovering from incidents, it’s draining. We seem to be living in desperate times again, people are getting depressed about it, and those are dangerous combinations. People are overwhelmed by life, and in turn, end up making bad choices so people on the other end of that become victimized, too. There isn’t a whole lot of compassion and empathy going on either. People are just upset.

Homelessness & Cost of Living

Homelessness is a huge huge problem here and probably everywhere. There are a lot of encampments throughout our county. It is a sad situation, and people with houses see the homeless as an inconvenience and get disgusted. We have to remember that being homeless in Washington is tough because the elements here are terrible.

Everyone knows there are a lot of reasons people become homeless. A big one is the high cost of living around here. With low salaries and high prices it’s gets tough. There are so many homeless people, and not enough resources to help. The way the government has handled it is an obvious failure. They clear out the camps and then the homeless people just make a camp elsewhere and the cycle continues. If I it weren’t for my family and the social safety net set up to support my physical disabilities, I could’ve been homeless pitching a tent somewhere or worse.

It was already getting tougher and tougher for people on fixed incomes and working by the hour, and then gas prices were raised, just adding more stress to the average citizen. How do you expect people to manage while coming out of pandemic at the same time? It’s just hard all around. Unless we figure something out that works for everyone, we are going to see more homeless people, more depressed people and more struggling people.

Congested Roads & Walkable Streets

A lot of people complain about our horrible traffic, because it is horrible. They also complain a lot about speeding on neighborhood streets, and that really hits home for me as a pedestrian. I know people are trying to avoid backups on the main roads and trying to get to work, home, appointments etc. but we have steep hills with curves and driveways everywhere and it’s just dangerous. A problem I face all the time is when drivers make erratic turns and don’t pay attention to who or what is on the side of their car, especially near the freeways where drivers speed down off-ramps to get into town.

Sidewalks and crosswalks are really important for a neighborhood feel, especially to get people out of cars, exercising and talking to each other. Sidewalks and crosswalks are also critical so people who don’t drive cars can get around safely, especially where there’s a lot of traffic. I can show you every old sidewalk that’s been here for decades, rotting due to the elements and needing to be replaced.

Our county seat of Tacoma is even worse. Just last month I had to drive my wheelchair into traffic to go around buckling spots in the sidewalk that my chair couldn’t handle. I know it takes tax money, but there should be an expedited schedule for when sidewalks should get replaced. Or back in my neighborhood – it was built before sidewalks were required, and they are needed, but I’ve been lucky that there aren’t any through-streets so not much traffic compared to other neighborhoods.

Accessibility & Discrimination

I think there are a lot of things in the Puyallup area that show significant improvement as far as accessibility and discrimination are concerned. However, it can be better. For instance, for the disabled community, we need to have more ramps, and automatic doors to businesses. Some businesses follow the existing regulations and some don’t. One business in town where my family likes go is very popular and a nice place to eat. They have two staircases and one elevator that has been there for years and years. That elevator is old and sometimes does not work. I have been stuck in it and told staff about it but they just don’t take me seriously.

Another bar downtown where I used to go has a step into it and I told them to please take care of it since it’s a violation of ADA regulations. I don’t know if anybody has had similar issues but it is hard for me to speak up very much because people start thinking “there’s Matt trying to cause problems again.” I really would love to be a part of the process of change, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to say something. I have lived here my whole life so I care about the safety of my community. Granted a lot of the buildings are old and it costs a lot to improve, but a little ramp won’t hurt, and replacing an elevator will only make it more safe and attractive.

I can’t speak for what people who experience discrimination based on things like race and sex go through in our town, but the friend who is helping write this blog post happens to be Black so I asked him what things are like nowadays in town after the George Floyd era. Here’s what he said:

“Living in Puyallup as a Black teen has been quite the experience. When I first got enrolled in school coming from Parkland I immediately noticed a shocking difference. My old high school in Parkland was full of diversity and culture: people took pride in who they were.

Compare that to my school in Puyallup where the social norm was for everybody to be the same, and shunning out unique personalities, cultures and ideologies. Speaking to other BIPOC people in Puyallup, it’s the same story. We feel left out, we feel silenced, we feel excluded. It feels like the community does not have our back and it shows in some of the things that have happened.

However, new leaders are speaking up, like having the City of Puyallup and School Board recognize Black History Month despite it being almost 100 years overdue. We also saw the first ever Juneteenth celebration in Puyallup last year and the first community Black History Month celebration this year. Things are improving, but ‘will it stick’ is the true question.” – Malachi Fournillier

What do you think about your neighborhood?

There are a lot of other issues we’re facing right now, but we’re also lucky to have what we do in our town. Parks for one, and many of them are even accessible. I mean, just compare our life to what’s happening in Ukraine or in developing countries. Whether you are feeling good or bad about your neighborhood, I want to hear about it. Post your thoughts in the comments, or join me this Thursday, March 31, 2022 for my next “Any Question” online gathering so we can talk about it all. Click here to RSVP and click here for the zoom link.

We Need One Recognized National Disability Awareness Month

We need the entire nation to declare one month as “Disability Awareness Month.” In the late 1940s, Congress declared October for Disability Employment Awareness, and in the late 80s, Ronald Reagan declared March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. In the early 90s, after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, Boston and other cities declared July as Disability Pride Month. Since then, various states have created different versions of Disabilities Month in March, July and October.

March is Women’s History Month. July is problematic because everyone is on vacation, not paying attention, and definitely not a good time to reach children in schools. Here in Washington State, the legislature took action in 2008 to declare October as Disability History Month in public schools and and directed schools to “conduct or promote educational activities that provide instruction, awareness, and understanding of disability history and people with disabilities. The activities may include, but not be limited to, school assemblies or guest speaker presentations.”

Everyone agreed by the early 1970s that February was Black History Month, while we still have competing versions of when the history and rights of the disabled are in focus. Some states don’t even have anything on the books yet. The result? Our nation has never been able to achieve real awareness about, or understanding of, people with disabilities. To this day, when people see someone who looks disabled, old assumptions and feelings of discomfort come up. We are seen as fundamentally different and less capable before people event stop to discover our strengths.

Even when our disabilities are physical, people assume we’re not capable of thinking for ourselves, or making our own decisions. People should be educated from a young age to avoid mixing physical and mental abilities. They are two completely different things. Stephen Hawking brought awareness to the world on this point, and every year during Disability Awareness Month, students should watch a documentary about him and other successful people who have physical disabilities.

Of course, Stephen Hawking had the advantage of the being perceived as smart at a young age, with access to the best schools, before his disability changed what he could do physically. If we are born with physical disabilities, like in my case with severe scoliosis or even Multiple Pterygium Syndrome, then it’s a question whether developmental or learning disabilities are simply a result of physical problems or something else. Were my learning disabilities innate, or a result of hearing impairment and the inability to pay attention when I was in pain most of the time?

With modern media, we actually may be more brainwashed than ever about how “intelligent people” should look or act, when in fact, a lot of smart people are slow processors. As a friend on Facebook recently said, “I can only take in a certain amount of information before I have to stop and let my brain process it. If I continue to listen or read something after that point, I will understand the words, but I won’t remember the context.

“I feel like the world is geared toward stream of consciousness thinkers or people who are “always on”. Social media gives that illusion. Television shows use fast talking characters as a way to imply someone is intelligent. Popular YouTubers for the most part barely stop to breathe. Media personalities seem to get high ratings when all they do is yell and talk over people. I need many small breaks throughout the day or I can’t focus. I will zone out. No, I can’t help it. It’s just how I’m wired. It’s hard to explain this to people. They just think I’m disinterested in what they are saying. But what I’m really doing is deep thinking.”

He’s a tech manager for a Fortune 500 company, and like him, I have to process my thoughts at a deliberate pace. Still, I feel like I’m smarter than 90% of Americans – maybe because I do stop to consider things deeply – but of course that’s just my opinion lol. I’m a processor, definitely not a person who can process audially like those who can hear perfectly, or focus without the distraction of physical discomfort going on in my body.

I asked my friend Jeffrey Hibbard about this as well. He’s filming my documentary and like me, has been hearing impaired from a young age. He agrees that slow does not mean less intelligent, despite what teachers and peers thought about us throughout our school years. He says that when someone is talking to him, he often needs time to readjust his brain to focus on what someone is saying. It’s not something he could explain to teachers (and especially peers) until he was older, so it caused a loss of participation and learning over the years.

Does that cumulative loss from not having our disabilities accommodated affect our intelligence to this day? I guess, but we strive to make up for it, and we look for people perceptive enough to understand who and how we are. When people slow down and spend time with us, they get the inside scoop. They find out what things are important to know about our disabilities, and even more surprising to them, what things are not a big deal at all. They find out we are just like everyone else when it comes to 90+% of things.

There’s a huge lack of education in America about people with disabilities. As a country, we’re just not sensitive to other people, what they are going through, what their story is, what lead up to a point where we make assumptions. We believe ignorant things: like everyone can see the same, hear the same, pay attention the same way, or learn the same.

When people assume things about the disabled, what it really does is demonstrate their own lack of intelligence, or at least a lack of education. It’s a sign of social unawareness to assume someone can focus on what you’re saying when they can’t. From a young age, kids should learn this kind of social awareness. Jeffrey told me about an exercise he experienced in school that safely taught students what it’s kinda like to be disabled. Students were asked to wear ear plugs all day and try to learn while sitting in class, while others wore weights to know what it felt like too not move as fast, or to learn while tired.

I know that back in school as a kid, I didn’t know how to calmly educate people when they assumed things about me, or when they didn’t know how to teach me. Now as an adult, I have more patience and skill in speaking, so I know there is a way to get these concepts across. Taking personal responsibility like I’m trying to do now is a good start as to educating Americans about disability awareness, but there really needs to be a comprehensive effort from leaders with bigger platforms.

If we continue to ignore the need for educating people about disabilities, we are in essence teaching discrimination through ignorance. Kids are genuine. If you don’t teach them, they will be ignorant. As Jeffrey said when we were talking about this, it relates not just to disability awareness, but to the history of humanity as a whole. There’s so much ignorance, and it comes from the same place: assuming you know something about others that you don’t. Black History, or awareness about the challenges Jews faced throughout history, are great examples: if we don’t stand up and tell the real stories, they will repeat themselves.

I really think it’s because we’ve never had a unified national Disability Awareness Month that these misperceptions of the disabled continue. To correct the situation, collaboration is key. I would love to see national attention in the media focused on people with disabilities throughout the month. I’d like to see accurate and not pitiful representation of people with disabilities. We need recognition as being intelligent and talented. History is full of the literally most successful people in the nation and world who made it with disabilities. Franklin Roosevelt for one, or Helen Keller despite our generation growing up with the childlike caricature of her, forgetting everything she became in her adult life.

Disability pride flag designed by Ann Magill

We need to change how people with disabilities are perceived. TV and news programs like Good Morning America could feature a different person every day of the month who has a disability and has nevertheless become successful. National media could feature national business owners, artists, actors, musicians, non-profit founders and political leaders. Regional media and universities should feature state leaders, and local schools should bring in local people who have been successful while living with disabilities. We’ve achieved so many things, and in our own ways.

I can live a normal and happy life just like everyone else, but it might look different, and it might take longer than a fully able-bodied person. One thing is for sure, it takes collaboration. Even typing this blog post! There’s just no way I could type this much with my hands like they are. Fortunately, I have a friend who types 60 words/minute as I talk, trained in a 9th grade semester-long typing class. He also uses what he learned in AP English to edit so the blog post is better received by the public. I wasn’t given the opportunity to take those classes in school.

I’m the “talent” in the collaboration, knowledgeable about the subject we’re talking about. Everyone has their strong suits and the things they aren’t good at. I like talking, and I talk about what I know. There are certainly times I need help, like transferring from my chair into a car and back, or having things built in a way I can access what I need to live. There are also things I need to learn, even about what some people might think I should know all about, like the ADA. I know what people with my particular disabilities need, but there are many kinds of disabilities, so I’m enrolled in an ADA Coordinator Training Certification Course so I can learn to consult widely on the subject.

My friend Chris Chisholm build this ramp for me so I could go over to his house when he offered to type up my thoughts about Disability Awareness Month for this blog post. This is what Chris said on Facebook after I tagged him in the video: “I had a lot of fun building it, and learned a ton, like ADA rules aren’t random, including the 1′ rise per 12′ length rule. I was like “that seems really long and I don’t have space” but after building it I realized it takes a power wheelchair to get up the 1′ per 7′ rise that I made, and when wet it’s totally slippery so have to add something like outdoor carpet for traction. Also should add safety block all along that top edge of the stairs in case a person accidentally turns right … yikes!”

I’m also learning as much as I can from Disability Rights Washington which has great resources for the public. It’s important people with disabilities have the right tools to be as independent as possible. The more tools taken away, or not provided in the first place, the more we need to rely on others. Why not just build things from the get-go that are accessible for everyone? Yes, it might increase the costs a bit at first, but it pays off over time.

My final thoughts on Disability Awareness Month is a message for my people to not hide. Go out, say what you have to say. I know we’re still dealing with situations that changed or limited our lives, and it’s definitely not easy to relive or talk about. Start putting a safety net in place for when the time comes to get out there and take a chance. Let’s send strong messages to our local, state and national leaders to declare one unified Disability Awareness Month and to encourage the whole nation to focus on it every year.

https://emilyladau.com/book/

Inspiring Black History Documentary + Meeting Pete Carroll

It was a surprise last Friday realizing Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll was right there with us in the SIFF Cinema Uptown audience watching Jeffery Robinson‘s Who We Are documentary. The film showed original-source history of racism Black Americans have experienced for centuries. Attending educational events like this is probably part of the reason Coach Carroll can effectively lead a diverse team of professionals like the Seahawks staff and players.

On Friday, a couple of friends invited me to see an inspiring Black History documentary called Who We Are which was created by Jeffery Robinson who was lead attorney for the ACLU before he founded his non-profit that has the same name as his documentary. I found out that Mr. Robinson spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area after growing up in Memphis during the civil rights era and getting a law degree from Harvard University.

I went all the way up to Seattle rather than seeing the movie locally because Mr. Robinson himself was going to be there. That was exciting for me. My own documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Hibbard also felt it was important to go and see a good documentary like this one, see the style of it on a big screen, and how the interviews were done, or when being on site at important locations is critical to a film. As it turned out, the style of Who We Are was a lot like what we’re planning to do.

I liked how the film started, showing the scenery of places like Memphis and Tulsa, giving us a feeling of the important cities and towns where key events took place. That’s exactly what I want in my documentary, starting in Tacoma where I was born, then Puyallup where I was raised, and Seattle where I was kept alive in the hospital during much of my childhood. The feelings of those places tell a lot of the story.

The reason we went up to Seattle rather than just seeing the Who We Are film locally at the Grande Cinema Tacoma was that Who We Are documentary creator Jeffery Robinson himself was going to be there doing a special Q&A with the audience. I think Mr. Robinson was anticipating a lot of questions that we had (no doubt he gets a lot of the same questions wherever he goes) because he answered them during his very first comments after the show.

One of the things I liked about watching Who We Are and documentaries like this are they give me inspiration and motivation to keep going in my own life. I get inspired by the experience and perseverance of others who find the strength to fight for their rights. Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think about the similarities and challenges that many of us still face with discrimination today.

Since there’s a lot of vocabulary needed to articulate a full understanding of other people’s experience, especially with things like racism, I’ll just try to share my perspective. In my case, or for the disabled in general, I don’t know whether prejudice or judgment or systemic discrimination are the right words. All I know is that those of us who experience discrimination can see it in a second.

In fact, the scene in the movie where Mr. Robinson confronts the guy holding a confederate flag in front of a confederate monument was intense for me. I’ve had to learn to handle situations like that, too. Like he did in the movie, I try not to react. I think about what to say before opening my mouth nowadays, because I have to decide if it’s worth confronting them, or better to just go about my day.

I couldn’t get down to the stage myself, but when my friend Jeffrey Hibbard (who is planning to make my documentary) went down there to talk to Jeffery Robinson during the meet-and-greet after the show, Mr. Robinson suggested we get in touch with his documentary filmmakers Sarah & Emily Kunstler for advice on our project.

Anyone who has experienced disrespect based on how we look will know right off the bat for the rest of our lives what certain words and symbols mean, no matter how someone tries to define them later. Like a confederate flag, it’s disrespectful toward a whole group of people, and it always will be. It’s like people who say comments that are absolutely disrespectful to me, by extension it’s to everyone who has a disability. I guess some don’t realize what they are saying, but others do. They are trolls who think it’s funny, or think it’s going to give them attention, or a reaction that’s going to start some sort of altercation.

Still to this day in 2022, people are still dealing with this, and it affects us. I love going out, but I don’t do it as much as I would if I didn’t have to think about what some people will inevitably say or do around me. We learn to keep our heads down a lot, not really talking to people as much unless they ask us something. I’ve been in plenty of those situations, so I know people are out there with that mindset, and it’s literally dangerous not knowing what they might do.

There’s so much that still needs to be done for human equality. This country talks a lot about rights for everyone, but it’s not how we always act. We see someone down the street and think they are a no-good thug, with hoodie and baggie pants, just like seeing someone in a wheelchair and assuming they are mentally “less than.” I know things are a lot better than in the past, but people are still making assumptions and trying to control others when they don’t need to.

My mom Tracie Budzak and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll chatting after the show. I think it made my mom’s year to meet the man known as the nicest coach in the NFL. I was especially thrilled that Mr. Carroll said he’d watch my documentary after it gets released next year.

As a big Star Wars fan, it makes me feel better to think that there are two sides to the force, the dark side and the Jedi side. It helps me to think of it that way, to get past the fact that someone I never met before just insulted me and the rest of my people. I was raised to be nice, to give a lending hand if I saw somebody struggling, and so it’s hard going out in the world and finding out that’s not always the case. That’s when the real test happens – when the world tests you – and you realize what kind of person you really are. We change after a certain amount of insult and injury. We can become bitter. I’ve been there and had those feelings, I’ve seen it and lived it and I know the newest generation of kids are going through that same thing.

I learned a lot from seeing Who We Are, and I was about ready to head out after the movie, until my friends Kim & Chris Chisholm pointed out Seattle Seahawks football coach Pete Carroll down in front talking to Mr. Robinson after the show. I was like no, really? He blended in so well I just thought he was a regular guy – which of course he is – but everyone thinks of him as so much more. All I could think of was that my mom had stepped out into the lobby and was going to freak out. Fortunately she came back into the theater just before Mr. Carroll and his wife came up – Chris had gone down to ask him if he’d take a photo with us. I thought maybe he’d say, “Sorry, I’m on personal time and have to go,” but then all of a sudden he’s right there in front of me, and I was trying to not be a blabbering idiot with a million questions.

Coach Carroll shook my hand, chatted with me, and I think the biggest thing I’ll take away from the encounter was that after I told him what I was doing in my life (speaking gigs, consulting on accessibility, doing educational events, etc.), he said, “I can’t wait to see your documentary.” Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, told me that he can’t wait to see my documentary. I’ll never forget that! I have to say I really hope when Mr. & Mrs. Carroll do see my documentary, that they share it with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his famous wife Ciara since I’m a big fan of theirs, too. That would be a dream come true!

Addiction, Recovery & Staying Sane in the Pandemic

Holding an alligator in front of an ad for one of my favorite drinks back in the day. I’ll be telling my story of addiction and recovery on Thursday, February 24th at 7pm during my next monthly Any Question online gathering, and doing my best to support anyone in attendance who would like to share wisdom from their own struggles.

Most people probably find recovery through a 12 step group, but the support those groups provide can sometimes be found in other places, too. I didn’t even realize I had many of those resources in place when I hit my bottom, but fortunately I had just enough elements in place to help keep me clean and sober for almost exactly two years now.

I now know how lucky I was since my sobriety coincided with the pandemic. I know I wouldn’t be here now if I had continued drinking in 2020. My support group during that time of transition was the Here & Now Project. Those guys made me feel good. Not only did they show me (without saying it) that things could be worse, but they really supported who I was and how I was feeling.

That group is the prime example of how I keep finding that I’m going through the 12 steps by accident with the support of friends. Just last week, after day 4 of being filmed in the Tacoma Little Theater for my documentary, and finally done telling how I survived my 20s despite alcoholism and addiction to pain meds, a friend there said, “that was a great 5th step.” I looked at him and asked, “Oh, which one is that again?”

My story might be unique in that I didn’t have even one drink or exposure to any illegal drugs until I was 21. On the other hand, I’ve heard that my birth parents were addicts, and I was on countless prescription meds throughout my childhood, including various pain killers.

Alcohol worked like no other pain killer I ever had before because it also numbed the mental pain. I didn’t have a care in the world … until it made things way worse.

When my parents brought me out for a drink on my 21st birthday, it wasn’t really the start of the story. It goes way back, to the predisposition I was probably born with, and the countless hospitalizations and traumatic surgeries I experienced, as well as the heartbreaks and deep depression I fell into during Jr. High School – a story I’ll share in as a blog post and Any Question online gathering topic later this year.

If I told my story as a 5th step, it would probably start on the day I graduated from high school. That was a really hard moment for me. I didn’t want to be there. Most of my classmates already had plans. They were excited about life, celebrating with friends and family, hugging each other, and there I was.

The whole experience made me feel worthless, seeing beautiful classmates in their gowns and looking like they had a ton of support. I had support from my family but it didn’t seem the same. I don’t know, maybe it’s that my grandma had just passed away so it just wasn’t a good time for me all around.

I know I didn’t want to be around people that day, because when people are all happy and celebrating and you’re not, the feeling is overwhelming. It’s sad to watch that. I guess I wasn’t really proud of myself. I got this diploma in my hand, and I didn’t know what the hell for. I went home and put it in a drawer somewhere, and I’ve never fiddled with it since. It had no meaning to me.

Mostly, it’s that I didn’t have any prospects. After my graduation, I just went back home and played x-box. The only thing I liked about graduation was that I didn’t have to go back to high school. I guess me making it through was a big accomplishment, especially since I already felt “done” after jr. high. Friends congratulated me, but then they went on their way and communication ended. As is probably the norm, I ever heard from most of them again.

My parents and me faking being happy at my graduation.

I still struggle with that feeling of loss in comparison to others. Most of the people I thought were friends left, went straight to college, got married, started a family, worked hard, got cars and a house, accomplished all this stuff. And yes, as you might be thinking as you read this, it was especially hard to see all those beautiful women who did that, who I would have loved to do all that with, but who would never give me time of day.

When you lose purpose and meaning in life, that’s the worst feeling in the world. It’s dangerous, and you become careless and numb. You don’ really think about anything but not wanting to be here on this planet anymore. It takes a lot of pain and loss to get into that frame of mind, and once you do, it’s hard to get out .

It took me so long to find myself, to love myself. I couldn’t relate to anyone from graduation day onward, and those feelings set the stage for my drinking years. I liked that all those people who I talked with all the time sitting next to me in class were now succeeding, but knowing they would leave me in the dust was rough.

That’s why discovering bars was good for me, where women and men alike would talk to me again. I was getting invited out, I was cool. But guess what, then I quit that two years ago, so they quit me too, just like after high school. Once again, I wasn’t doing what my peers were doing. I don’t drive, smoke, drink, have money, and all the people I know do. The difference between graduation day and the night I quit drinking is that I’ve started to come to terms with it.

I don’t want to give people the impression that alcohol is all bad, it’s just that some people have a problem with it. Like if you have depression, mixing that with alcohol is bad, which is what I did. Some people don’t have depression – they have a fantastic time, and stay in control of themselves. Alcohol isn’t horrible in and of itself. I know I liked it! Doing it too much is the problem.

So back to my 5th step. It was fun and I was happy at first. But as I became addicted, I turned into a mad, angry, and sad drunk. My mom continued to be my primary caregiver, and unfortunately, she got the brunt of the anger. She would have to come down to the bars to pick me up, and I wouldn’t want to leave to go home to stare at the walls again. I’d be mad and sad, and always get in arguments with my dad, angry with him most of the time.

It got bad, really bad. At times the police would get involved. When the bartender would cut me off, I just wouldn’t want to hear that, so I definitely had some words. That’s what I would do, and of course just like anyone else, if a person gets like that they would have to call the police. They would come, make me go outside, call my mom to pick me up. There were many bad incidents, and bridges burned.

Heading down the boardwalk to a bar in Seaside. Not a good idea.

One of the worst was the time my parents took me to Seaside, Oregon. It was just supposed to be a good get-away. We didn’t realize the room my dad reserved was just a small one with one bed, so I got a fold-up bed. I was thinking to myself “I’m in this tiny room with my parents, no friends, no girlfriend, and everything about life sucks.” I felt horrible.

So I told them I was going to go out to the beach, but I found a bar, drank half the night, came back to the hotel room, and I don’t remember a whole lot, but my mom was really upset not knowing where I was out so late, and of course freaked out. Meanwhile I was really drunk, so she set me off because when a person is drunk, they’re not in control with themselves or their emotions, and I totally flipped out.

I decided to go back out and find another bar, but the bars were closed. My mom found me and dragged me back into the room, and I was cussing her out. The people next door could hear it all, and the police came. I settled down a bit after they came in, and not expecting to see someone like me, the cop was completely speechless. He had no idea that I was physically disabled. That wasn’t what he was expecting, so he took a report and left.

I put my mom through a lot of hell that night, and I’ll never be able to take those moments back, no matter what I do moving forward, even if I did every one of the 12 steps. I can’t re-do that night or any night. In fact, I’m surprised I’m even able to write about it now. My mom is everything to me. The fact that alcohol can turn someone into that, it shows how bad addiction can be.

A huge part of me getting sober was so that I wouldn’t put my mom or anyone else through anything like that again. I came to that realization while being hospitalized for a few days for a kidney infection (no doubt alcohol induced) and I tell that whole story in my documentary (and might again during the online gathering next Thursday if I can hold it together) but let’s just say that when I was finally discharged and went outside, I had never seen the sky so blue, or the grass so green, sober for the first time in years.

Me and Max, the dog who saved me.

If people don’t have the right kind of support from family and friends, we just self-terminate, and that’s what I was doing. I don’t know if people know how close to the edge I was from making a huge mistake, and every time I go down that mental road again, I think about what would happen to my dog Max if something happened.

To this day I still struggle with anxiety, depression, and that alone feeling, but I have Max and he kinda fills that. Like I said at the start of this post, I was lucky to have just enough elements in place to stay clean and sober for a difficult first few days, then weeks, and finally months, until in the second year, being clean and sober was my regular lifestyle.

I guess the key word for me became “want.” I finally wanted something else, and was willing to face the difficult work. If you’re struggling, there’s a lot you have to do. A lot of people go for a few days or a week without a drink or drug, but then I sometimes ask them:

“Have you taken care of the root of the issue during that time, like what made you drink in the first place? Now you’re sober and the process needs to be worked on, and that will require staying away from people who are toxic, and that might even mean you’ve had a friend for years, but that person may be an alcoholic or addict, so and you’ll have to get away from them unless they join you in sobriety.”

I think that’s the hardest part, and another hard part is to self-evaluate (do the 4th step), owning up to mistakes, even facing something that happened 20 years ago you never recovered from, and go immediately into counseling or some kind of treatment plan. If not counseling, finding someone who is mature enough to stay unattached, non-judgemental, and can separate the wheat from the chaff.

It took me a year to get rid of the thoughts of wanting to drink, but as time moved on, things got better and better, but never perfect. You have to fill that pothole of addiction with other things, but it depends how deep that pothole is. If it’s really deep, you might have to get really serious and move to another town, or another state to do recovery work.

But people relapse again and again. I have a lot of friends in recovery – or were and then relapsed – and they post about it all the time, like “man, I hate this and I just want to be clean and stay sober, but I can’t do it.” Because it is hard, and the reason it’s hard is that you’re depressed, full of anxiety, not accepting help, getting defensive, or maybe just aren’t serious about it and don’t really want it more than the drink or drug. It’s even been important for me to steer clear of people who relapse for a while in order to stay sane myself – it’s not helpful to any of us if I don’t do what I need.

Even now it’s not easy to stay away from the bars. People don’t call, don’t want to hang out. It takes a while to find new friends and fill that old pothole. You have to get a whole new set of people and a new environment. For me it started with my dog Max, and video games, movies and TV – the things that got me through all my childhood health crises – the things I like to do. Concentrate on those, find a new hobby or three. I started collecting Funk Pops. I don’t care, become addicted to something less harmful if you have to, something a little more healthy than before.

Needless to say, this blog post is to prepare me for this month’s Any Question online gathering on the topic of addiction, recovery and staying sane in the pandemic. I don’t have a magic wand, so people will have to make their own changes, but what people need to realize is that talking about it is actually therapeutic for the speaker and getting it out there. I hope you’ll join me in sharing your story.

First Documentary Shoot with Filmmaker Jeffrey Hibbard

Jeffrey MB Hibbard filming me at the Tacoma Little Theater last week. We’ll be launching a Kickstarter Campaign this spring to cover Jeffrey’s filming and editing time, Tacoma Little Theater rental for shooting and premier showings, plus other expenses to produce my documentary over the coming year.

It’s happening. I can hardly believe it, but it’s happening. Last week, documentary filmmaker Jeffrey Hibbard met me at the Tacoma Little Theater which offered us space to shoot the initial scenes of my upcoming documentary. Jeffrey wanted to begin shooting and editing with no guarantee of his time and expertise being reimbursed. I agreed with the understanding that we would try our best to make sure he was eventually paid.

Jeffrey discussing sound options with Dylan Twiner of the Tacoma Little Theater who went above and beyond to offer us sound engineering. You can also see my mom in the photo sitting in the audience while waiting to be interviewed for the documentary.

Fortunately, you may have also noticed that one of my biggest fans jumped in to write a guest blog post after he attended my first Any Question online gathering last week. As it turns out, he also happens to be celebrating 25 years of running a successful seasonal business, and has taken to spending his “off-season” doing community service work, including helping entrepreneurs like me get a start.

Chris Chisholm watching me on stage at the Tacoma Little Theater and helping me follow a script Jeffrey provided for the documentary.

Chris has offered to match contributions to my business start-up expenses with his pro-bono business management services. He began over the weekend by helping us organize the documentary production schedule and a Kickstarter campaign to launch this spring.

Big thanks to the Tacoma Little Theater for providing space to shoot the first scenes of my documentary!

So stay tuned for our Kickstarter announcement as well as monthly blog updates on progress toward the production of “I Am Matt Budzak.” In the meantime, I need help deciding whether or not to add a subtitle for the documentary. What do you think about these ideas?

I Am Matt Budzak – Who Are You?
I Am Matt Budzak – How About You?
I Am Matt Budzak – Ready for a Ride
I Am Matt Budzak – Ready to Roll

Vote for your favorite (or “no subtitle”) in the comments or by emailing me! – Matt

My First Guest Post from a Fan!

Note from Chris: My wife Kim took this photo of me and Matt in Wildwood Park yesterday. We joined his first “Any Question” online event last Thursday and have been big fans of his YouTube videos and Facebook posts since 2020. This spring, we will be co-leading Accessible Northwest Natural History Hikes with him, the first one on April 22 right here in Wildwood Park in honor of Earth Day.

It was a real pleasure joining Matt’s first online gathering last week. It included a preview of the “I Am Matt Budzak” speaking topic and slideshow he’s prepared to share with groups that invite him to speak in the future. The event was excellent, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the remaining speaking topics he rolls out during his monthly online gatherings.

On this topic – and I don’t know about anyone else – but I feel like I already “got it” (and became a huge fan) a couple years ago after clicking on his first YouTube video. I guess it was when I heard myself saying “I am Matt Budzak” out loud that I got it – that despite our perceived differences, we’re really all the same. The things I thought were a big deal, weren’t. The things I didn’t think about – those were important.

I just don’t know how else to explain it. I assume some people will get it, and others won’t. Maybe it’s the non-confrontational way he (says he in recent years) developed to share the insights he’s come to that taught me so much – not the least of which was what it might be like to live with a lot of physical limitations – again, what really is a big deal and what’s not – and how to get past my assumptions.

Matt’s First “Any Question” Online Gathering

Matt said he isn’t recording his live online Zoom calls because he wants everyone to feel comfortable asking any question, giving feedback on his slideshows, and sharing thoughts on the topics he presents. My wife Kim and I asked if we could take notes as Matt went through his slideshow, and afterwards, I asked if he would like me to do a guest blog post as a way of sharing how the evening went.

He said yes! So here’s some of what Matt covered…

Matt held by his dad, with a ton of medical equipment they depended on to keep him well. Matt says they always had a generator at the ready and had to scramble to keep him safe whenever the power went out.

Matt was adopted as a baby and raised in Puyallup.  He said he “wouldn’t have it any other way except the weather” lol. He was born with Multiple pterygium syndrome, which he explained causes the joints in his arms and legs to not work right.

We were struck by the photos he shared from his childhood, with legs looking perfect – without realizing at first that they were locked in place. Matt said he made the best of it, and was a typical little kid, liking to play with toys, and learning to scoot around on his bottom since he couldn’t crawl due to being stuck in what looks like a sitting position.

Matt pointed out that in his slideshow, we might notice most of the photos show he had a “trach” in order to help him breathe from the time he was a baby until he was about 20 or 21 years old. In one of the photos, Matt’s mom pointed out his arm cast, saying the thumb on his right hand didn’t work, so among other surgeries, doctors tried to transfer a tendon to fix it, but the procedure didn’t end up working.

“I don’t quite remember when or where i got the bicycle. I was actually comfortable because my legs were down. Being on that bicycle gave me a sense of freedom, a sense of normal. I rode the heck out of that thing. I pretty much imagined myself being on a Harley Davidson every time I got on.”

Matt said that when he wasn’t in the hospital, his family life was normal, taking family vacations and stuff.  He said he was trying to be a kid as much as possible, remembering that there were other kids in the hospital “going through things way more advanced and intense” than even him.

One guy who attended the Zoom meeting while wearing what looked like hospital scrubs asked Matt what he did to entertain himself all that time in the hospital as a kid. Matt said he was on a lot of meds and slept a lot, but otherwise TV. “This was the 90’s, so we had Fresh Prince, Boy Meets World, Backstreet Boys, N Sync – that was the discovery of entertainment for me.  I loved it.  It kept my mind off of the pain.”

“That was an intense time for a young kid to go through. I tried to continue to enjoy my childhood the best i could.” Matt then showed a photo of himself in what he said was a typical position eating on the floor … and wearing some colorful shoes. “I was eating oatmeal and rocking Elmo sandals. I loved those! To this day, I follow Elmo on social media – so there you go.”

Matt with apparatus designed to train his legs to straighten out. It involved years of pain and ended up not working.

Matt went on to share that as he got older, he and his doctor realized that the surgeries and painful apparatus they put on his legs to try to straighten out the joints were not going to be successful. No matter what they did, his legs were going to go back the way they were – and possibly turn backwards – so if he kept them, he might not even be able to sit in a chair.

“I never saw the importance of having legs.”

So Matt went to his mom with the request that his legs get amputated. “It was the best decision of my life,” he said. Then for several years, he tried wearing prosthetics. “You know, those prosthetics weighed a hell of a lot more than I did on a good day. I struggled a lot with those. We would go to church and I would have my prosthetics and a walker and would try to go up to communion. I fell a lot – face forward in line while trying to walk up. We were hoping that over time I would get used to them with increasing strength, but they ended up taking away my independence. It just wasn’t working.”

Matt wearing prosthetics at Disney World with his mom and sisters after his leg amputation.

Matt said that people understandablely pushed him to to work with the prosthetics for a long time, but he I felt a lot more freedom when he finally chose a wheelchair life over a life with prosthetics. Regarding the decisions he made about his legs, he says he has “no regrets at all, none whatsoever….  Like after the double amputation, the first time I went out in public without my legs, people were all ‘I’m so sorry” but I was confused because I was actually the most happy and active I’d been in years…. I never saw the importance of having legs.”

Matt didn’t get deep into what he said was a very dark time during Jr. High School, apparently saving that for a speaking topic he plans to roll out in August or September. Instead, he went on to show pictures of him and his friends in high school, talking about feeling cool together, and sharing where each of them are now – all successful no matter what people said about the lot of them back in school.

Screenshot of video with Matt speaking to Lion’s Club about 10 years ago.

Matt talked about not doing much of anything for a couple years after graduating from high school, and then somehow being invited to several venues to talk about his life. “I was definitely not comfortable being in front of people yet, so that was a huge thing for me.  It all just kind of worked out.  Made me think: that’s it, that’s what I want to do is be a speaker.

“But then for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, the invitations kind-of dried up. I wasn’t able to get a job. I was rejected again and again, and I discovered alcohol at that point.” Matt said he’ll share more about surviving his 20s next month (Feb 24 at 7pm Pacific) when he rolls out his “Mental Health, Addiction & Recovery” speaking topic, but he did talk about going down to the bars in Puyallup. “There were some people that started taking notice that I was there, and they thought it was cool that somebody like me was out and about.

“In the beginning, I think people had their heart in the right place and kind of enjoyed my company, have a drink with me … and that was good in the beginning.  I discovered what a buzz felt like, and all the stress and pain was just gone and it was an overwhelming good feeling that I had.  I started experimenting with beer … whartever tasted good.  Then i got introduced to … all these different drinks and shots.

“I started drinking a lot.  I’d be going down to the bar every day.  It became my life, that’s what i did.  I couldn’t do anything else, or at least I didn’t feel like it.  People were talking to me and paying attention to me.  Most of the time they were buying me drinks and I would take advantage of that.”

“Little did I know that a huge problem was being created – getting addicted to it.  By the time I was 23 or 24, I was full-blown into it.  Every single day.  Trying to meet new people.  Everyone I knew was partying and drinking.  Unfortunately, there were a few people I came across that didn’t have the best intentions – let’s see how drunk we can get the handicapped guy.  I didn’t realize that was happening until I was like 25 – when it started to get dangerous.  I would have 1 beer then go straight to the shots.  I started  blacking out.  I had no idea where I was going in life…. It was not good.

“Toward the end of my drinking years, I found out about this group called the Here And Now Project run by a friend named Kenny.  He recommended I go to their meetings at the library.  I was kind of still drinking at that point and maybe went to one meeting.

“Anyway, I ended up getting sick and having a kidney infection, so had to quit drinking all together.  I started going to the Here And Now meetings full time. They lifted my spirits, made me feel good, treated me like I was somebody.  I don’t even think they realized how much they changed my life and put my life in perspective.”

Questions

One person from New Mexico who attended the gathering asked Matt what he would like to do with the rest of his life.  He said, “The sky is the limit. I have so many things I want to pursue – motivational speaking, podcasting, have my own place and live a long happy life.  I’m hoping to do some traveling – check out New York. I’m taking it one step at a time. Be happy and healthy and take it from there.”

Another person spoke up, saying she listened to one of Matt’s podcasts and watched a couple videos, and wanted to thank Matt for role modeling incredible courage and willingness to risk and step into the unknown, saying those are wonderful qualities that will take him where he wanted to go. Matt said he appreciated that but also shared that he does get tired easily and doesn’t want to get himself in a situation where he does so much motivational speaking that he gets too tired to do a part-time job at the same time, as he has a tendency to get overwhelmed and has to take care.  

A few others in attendance knew Matt or his family, one mentioning playing Bunco with him back in the day. She mentioned that when she saw the Zoom event show up on Facebook, she really wanted to join because she “always loved your enthusiasm for life and positive attitude, and can’t wait to hear more from you.”

Guest post author Chris Chisholm and his wife Kimberly McKillip Chisholm live in Puyallup and run Wolf Camp & School of Natural Science. They plan to volunteer with Matt starting in the spring to help guide his new Accessible Northwest Natural History Hikes co-sponsored by the Conservation College.

My First Live Online Event!

My segment on Q13’s Driver on the Street with its focus on “bringing people together and lifting each other up” helped put me on a path toward offering my own educational events with the same mission. Here’s the story of how I got to this important milestone….
Pandemonium

At that time Q13 interviewed me for its “Driver on the Street” segment in 2020, my goal was to promote my YouTube Channel and get more subscribers. When I had launched my YouTube channel, it was a few weeks after the pandemic started. All the businesses were closed, and I had absolutely nothing to do.

I thought to myself, “Oh my God, I’m stuck at home feeling all alone again, and all I have is my phone and my iPad.” Then I said out loud, “Well, here we go.” I wanted to be a star, be Jimmy Fallon! I kept turning on the TV seeing social media stars getting their reality shows, so why not me? I’d give anything to be seen, to be recognized, to be heard. In reality, it became so much more than about me: it was that I could potentially help people by doing this.

I posted a few videos but within a few weeks, the country seemed to turn upside-down again with sheer panic after George Floyd was murdered. 2020 was like people started to learn what having a real hard life was. Summer came and went, and by fall, I think people were looking for stories about overcoming hardship.

Michael Driver from Q13 News in Seattle was producing a series of feel-good success series called Driver on the Street, and I guess he saw some of my videos, came all the way down to Puyallup, set up spotlights and cameras in my room, just went all-out. He even took the whole production out into the neighborhood for a walk with Max and me.

It was still near the start of the pandemic and before vaccines rolled out, so everything was in that context, like how to get through it, showing how people can make it. The story was positive, but of course he had to edit and cut it down into pieces of interest to his viewers, so it was a limited perspective. Fortunately, there was good feedback from it, and it did actually drive more subscriptions and followers my way.

In fact, strange things started to happen when I’d go out or take my for a walk downtown. People would look at me, wave and yell at me, saying “Hey Matt.” They’re was one guy who made a u-ie, turned around and came back to me, said “saw you on Q13, thought that was really cool” and stuff like that. Max and I would just look at each other and say “whoa.”

Breaking Isolation

I also started noticing how the pandemic affected the disabled community. People we know would look at us like “Oh, you’re disabled so I’m not going to go near you or you’ll get Covid” and so some of my family members don’t even talk to me for fear that I’m going to get it. I imagine old people might be feeling the same way right now.

I think that mentality went to an extreme and caused a pandemic of mental health for almost everyone. I know the alone factor definitely increased for me as a human being, and as a man, on a personal level. Literally the only way it seems I don’t feel alone is by being with my dog, Max. I do have my parents and sister and niece living around me, but the pandemic created social awkwardness for everyone.

Neighbors and extended family don’t even seem to know know what to say, how to talk any more. Even me, I’m guilty of that: I’ll see someone online and then a few hours later I’ll see them in person, and bam, I don’t know what to say, and so the first thing we talk about is the pandemic.

It’s the reality, but it’s also the news. The way that it’s all presented, it literally gives you anxiety. I want to give people comfort, acknowledge that we’re going through unbelievably hard times, but showing people how we can get through this, how people can still live their lives, go out, do things. The news just says “don’t do this and don’t that – lock up, mask up, stay inside, close this and close that” so people are in their houses, afraid.

That’s where all the crazy thoughts come in, and the self medication, the deep depression. I definitely don’t see people smile as much any more. Okay, maybe it’s the mask, but you can tell, people are fearful. I’m guilty myself, worried that no matter what I do, I’m going to be treated by half the people as if I shouldn’t be there, like I’m doing something wrong, like I don’t belong.

You also hear the news talking about suicide prevention, but what about pushing the things we need to do before getting to that point? The pandemic shouldn’t stop people from living, but instead, make people find new and better ways to live.

If this virus isn’t transmitted very well outdoors, why aren’t outdoor events at the top of every news headline if they want to help lift people up? If some masks keep the virus from spreading better than others, and some masks allow people to speak and hear better than others, why aren’t those masks mass produced and advertised by the government, appearing on every web page and show for everyone to see?

Getting Together

All I can do is my part, so it’s time for me to see if I can counter how we’re trained to think by the news. I think trying things like my online gatherings, and especially things like our in-person hikes starting in the spring, are what I can do to help break the ice and social barriers that have built up over the last couple of years.

It might not happen right away, but over time as we get together in new ways, it will give people some hope and confidence. I look back over the past couple years and notice that there are people making it, living life creatively … while other people just didn’t make it, struggling more than ever. I have to say that if I was still drinking – still out there raising hell – there’s no way I’d be making it.

I’m just grateful that I got sober before all this stuff happened, because I would have literally just drank myself to death in my bedroom. We would definitely not be having these Thursday conversations if I had not quit. Everything going on would just be more fuel to the destructive fire that was I was feeding with alcohol.

I’m definitely nervous – excited but also nervous. My hopes are that maybe at the end of the day, people will be able to think “Well, wow, he’s been through a lot but he got stronger,” and hopefully that will give people some kind of inspiration. I know for me, it was about choosing a dream to focus on – no matter what people who knew the “old me” would say – and then work a bit every day on my goal to inspire people through these dark times and to realize a dream for themselves.

There was no turning back after that Driver on the Street – Life Lessons with Matt segment aired. From my YouTube videos a few people saw, to my social media sites like TikTok that blew up with views, I say to my followers: let’s take it to the next level by joining together on Zoom!

My First Consulting Experiences

Click to watch the KIRO 7 News Story from 2015 – the first time I appeared on TV!

My first consulting experiences were accidental. When I started getting asked to consult on making spaces more accessible, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I just said, “Okay, I’ll give you my perspective.”

Seemed harmless, and in fact, I thought it was a way I could give something to my community. Little did I know that it was also going to be a lesson in “no good deed goes unpunished.” Eventually I came to understand that getting criticized is an inevitable part of stepping up, but back then (just like what happened after my first public speaking gigs) I disappeared for a while after a couple of negative remarks online – criticized for having the audacity to appear on the news.

Now I’m fine listening to those who challenge me, but it took developing confidence in my dedication to helping the community and region become more accessible. That’s why I recently enrolled in the ADA Coordinator Training Certification Program and even hope to help large businesses and public facilities become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The certification program is a great way for me to learn about various disabilities a consultant needs to understand in order to fully advise on ADA compliance. It may already be paying off since I was recently contacted by a large firm asking if I could check out some accessible facilities they recently built…. but that’s a story to share in a future blog post!

Puyallup Fairgrounds

The whole experience that ended up on KIRO 7 News started off as an innocent rant on Facebook about inaccessible crosswalk buttons near the fairgrounds. Man it was important to make a change there, because Meridian Street is such a busy area in the heart of the city where I spend a ton of time.

I wasn’t able to reach the crosswalk button because there was a step-up curb in the way, making the button too far away to push. There was no way to safely cross the street with cars zipping on and off the freeway ramps. It was a safety concern for me and many others, a huge one.

I didn’t expect anyone to listen to my Facebook rant, or get anything done about it, but a friend saw the post and called KIRO 7. Somehow, they got in touch with my dad, and he told me they wanted to meet and do an interview with me about it. I was like “wow” – I had never been on TV so that idea was pretty intense. But there I was, right down there at the intersection by the fairgrounds, with a loud freeway overhead and cameras pointed in my face, and well, the rest you can still see by clicking on the news broadcast which is still posted on KIRO 7 after all these years.

The broadcast must have lit a bit of a fire. Right after that, I ended up meeting some of the guys from the city and the state, and they were like “wow” – they had no idea it was a problem and just didn’t think of it like I saw it. They started to point fingers about what wasn’t up to code, whose jurisdiction it was, who has resources to fix it, etc. but anyway, the problem got (partially) fixed that year.

What happened on social media after the news broadcast was interesting. I got some negative feedback. For some reason a couple of people weren’t happy that “I went to the news media” about it, although they actually came to me. Either way, back then I was sensitive to that kind of criticism. There were some mean comments so I kinda retreated and stayed out of the limelight for a while.

I had felt I was doing something good that was going to benefit everybody, and I was proud at first. I now know that’s the head space I need to stay in, and if I do, the sky’s the limit. I want to do what I can to make changes to improve and better our community – not just the community but anywhere in the state, or who knows – in other regions if possible, too.

I was reminded of this whole experience last year when another friend saw that old news broadcast and asked me about it. I casually mentioned that two of the crosswalk buttons never got fixed. Little did I know, but he called our city council representative who remembered the whole situation, and those additional crosswalk buttons were pretty much fixed within a few days, so I went down there to check it out. They weren’t improved as well as the original ones they replaced (made better by removing the step-up curb) but I was now at least barely able to reach all the buttons.

Grand Pacific Tacoma

Another accidental consulting experience I had was when a friend of my aunt heard about me, and maybe thought that I was a big accessibility advocate due to seeing me on KIRO 7 or something. She called and asked if I could head over to Tacoma and take a look at the sidewalks and crosswalks outside of the Grand Pacific Apartments, and meet with city staff about accessibility along her block.

Sure enough, there were a bunch of issues. The sidewalks were a mess, and there’s an intersection that goes over to a store with no crosswalk or anything to get past traffic. So I gave my thoughts – put in my 2 cents to help out, did what I could, but to this day I don’t know what happened. It doesn’t work if people don’t respond or listen. A few people from the city seemed to look at me like “go away” but maybe that was my low self-esteem talking back in the day.

Clearly I didn’t know what-all it entails to change a situation of inaccessibility like that. It’s got to be about timing, and cost, and the right people, and the bureaucratic process. All I really know is that it’s important, and I hope to help by consulting on more of these situations.

If you know of any areas where accessibility can be improved, reach out and ask me to check it out. I’ll give feedback, and try to put the right people in touch to make an improvement in your community. I’d be happy to take a look and give you my perspective and ideas.

Like I say on my consulting page, don’t let money or worry stop you from reaching out. I always appreciate financial support for time and travel as well as helping pay expenses associated with my ADA Coordinator certification training, but in the meantime, consulting simply remains a community service I’m passionate about pursuing. So spread the word!

My First Speaking Gigs

My first speaking gig back in the day.

I almost started my speaking career not long after I graduated from high school, but life sometimes has a way of sending you on a long detour before you get on the right path.

Seattle Children’s

The first big speaking gig I did was at a country club that was doing as a fundraiser for Seattle Children’s Hospital. They wanted me to come out and share my experiences there as a patient, saying how great they were. I was happy to do it, because they were great, and I would know – I spent a lot of time there as a child.

There were around 50 people in the audience. It was really intense for me, being thrown into the fire since I hadn’t done anything like that before. I was so nervous that I don’t even know what I said, but fortunately someone was videotaping the event, and the video become one of the first things I posted to my YouTube channel. I guess I just shared a little about my life story, and what it was like getting surgeries and spending time recovering at Children’s. Actually, what I remember most was that they had the singer Kelly Clarkston tune in via video, and give her own message as well. I don’t remember her story, but she was obviously a big supporter of Seattle Children’s.

WSU College of Education

The same year, my sister was in Pullman, WA attending WSU to become a teacher. When she chose her final major I was thinking to myself “wow, ok” and I was really proud of her. She was so driven, always pushing toward the goals she had. S

My sister knew I wanted to do public speaking, and she arranged for me to speak to one of her classes, asking me to share my thoughts about how teachers could handle kids coming to their classes who were disabled. I spoke exactly on that.

I shared that in my experience, some teachers panic a little bit, not knowing what to do or how to handle things. I told them that in reality, it really isn’t a big deal: just treat them like other students; but then again, if that student also has learning disabilities, they’d need a para because they would need more time than other students.

I’m not sure how deeply the college students listened to me that day, and one kid fell asleep which actually reminded me of myself in school. In fact, I didn’t know that still went on in college! But the main problem was there wasn’t a lot of time for questions before the class period ended. It’s usually the main bummer about speaking gigs – when there’s limited time for questions.

Youth Investment Center

Another place where I spoke around that time was at the Puyallup Youth Investment Center where I used to go when I was in Jr High. Downtown kids in Puyallup could go there, hang out with each other, and kind-of get away from home life. Basically, it was an after-school activity center.

They invited me to speak to the new crop of kids attending the center, wanting me to give my life story and tales from back in the day. I just told them about me, and a few stories about what would happen when I would hang out there. I also talked about bullying, and one of the kids asked about it, but I’m not sure he liked the answers, but that’s me: telling it as I see it, not what I think people want to hear.

One of the kids thought I was really amazing and inspiring. That felt good. In fact, everywhere I spoke seemed to go great, like people were really into it, and I thought to myself, “Maybe I found my calling.” So every day, I would expect more invitations. Little did I know, pursuing a speaking career takes a lot of work. People aren’t just going to come to you if they don’t know you’re out there.

Disillusion

I was starting to live the dream, but then for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, everything stopped. I think summer came, schools let out, no one else called to invite me to speak. I really got depressed because I didn’t know how to keep it going. Not getting any more offers to speak made me feel so defeated – something I now know is a fundamental self-esteem problem I have.

I said to myself, “you know, maybe this isn’t something I’m going to be able to do.” I sat around and became more and more bored, more isolated, and started going out to the bars a lot, found people to talk to and hang out with. A lot of them were great, and some of them were bad influences involved with along with heavy drinking, and that became my life for the next few years.

I also started having problems with my back, and so I went to a pain clinic, and it was only 10 minutes from my house. I guess there’s no reason they wouldn’t have prescribed those pain meds to me since the pain and scoliosis were real. Now I was addicted to pain meds along with alcohol. Anything would set me off, full of anger.

Thoughts of suicide started coming, not hurting myself or others, but just going to sleep and not waking up. I didn’t want to be here, no meaning or purpose, like I was wasting my time being alive. I don’t think my family even realizes how dark and close to the edge I was at the time.

Back On Track

I’m going to save the story of those dark years for a future post on addiction and recovery, but suffice it to say for now that a huge part of me getting sober was so that I wouldn’t put my family through anything like those times again. As my caregiver, I put my mom through a lot of hell, and I’ll never be able to take those years back, no matter what I do moving forward.

What I am going to do moving forward is stay on track working to realize my dreams. That includes public speaking. I guess it was all the videos that I started publishing to YouTube, and the encouragement I received from people who were inspired by what I said, that helped me remember this original dream.

It took some work over the last couple of years to figure out how to launch my public speaking career, and we’ll see how well it goes now that I’m putting it out there! In association with the schedule I set up for monthly topical gatherings online, I’m working on a series of slideshows that focus on all the topics I like to speak about. Here’s what I’ve come up with, and I’m looking forward to hearing from people who want to hear what I have to say:

Speaking Topics Scheduled for Release
Just found this old video of me speaking at the Lion’s Club! it was before my jaw surgery.