Pepe Manuel Acuna died of cancer.
He was clean for more than thirty years and continues to be a legend in Los Angeles , California .
He said that I never realized when I got clean that recovery was about to introduce me to a thought system completely contrary to the thought system that I had when I was using drugs .
That was my problem. The thought system that I believed in and lived by . My thinking was my problem and it’s been corrected every day .
I am begining to see perception a little clearer, and that’s a miracle. A miracle is a shift in the perception. What I see and fear , I now see with love.
PEPE 2 DOB: 11/19/32; East Los Angeles “I feel sorry for those people who have such a strong tolerance for pain that they never give up.
They die. Those addicts I know, many, many people that I grew up with, they are all dead. They were not able to say, ‘I give up.’”
My name is Pepe and I am a drug addict and at the present I have been involved with a recovery program for quite some time now and I will tell you a little bit about myself and things I have learned being involved with recovery.
One of the things that I discovered, that were very diffi-cult for me, was that my problem was not drugs. When I was first told that, it was very hard for me to understand and accept it. They told me that my problem was something deeper; it was deeper than the drugs. That the drugs were a symptom of a deeper underlying cause, and that my problem was my thinking. Now for a long time I thought that drugs was my problem, along with many other problems. I believed that my problem was not my thinking, that my problem was my feelings and that my feelings were, the way my feelings were, was because of many things that I blamed for my feelings.
And basically I blamed people, places, and things for how I felt. I wouldn’t have thought that this was my problem, my problem was my feelings, and the reason why I have these feel-ings is because those people, those things, and those situations caused me to feel the way I feel. I always blamed my family for how I felt. I’ve always felt “not loved.” I felt that my father didn’t love me. I felt that my family really didn’t love me.
This was one of the reasons why I felt unlovable. I felt inadequate, I felt lonely, and then I began to believe that. I began to blame other things. That if I had all those things that I never had when I was a child, if I was born on the right side of the class, if I had the nice things the other kids had, then I would have felt like somebody, that I was worth some-thing. And I always felt that the reason why I felt worthless and a nobody is because I never had anything.
So I blamed things for how I felt, and I even blamed God. It wasn’t because God had never answered my problems I wouldn’t be so miserable. So I always blamed people, places, and things for how I felt.
For a long time I really believed this, and as far as my thinking was concerned, I thought that my thinking was all right, that my thinking was okay, because I had always learned how to make it in the streets. Ever since I was a little kid I knew how to hustle. I always had a paper route, or I was shining shoes. I was doing some kind of hustle out there, so I was never broke. Even as a kid I always had a few bucks in my pocket. And then later on when I got into the life of drugs, I was dealing weed or some kind of drugs, and I always had money. So I thought there is nothing wrong with my thinking. I know how to handle life. I know how to take care. I know how to run the streets. I know how to survive.
And because I never thought that there was something wrong with my thinking, so I always believed that the reason why my life was a shambles was because people, places, and things. That’s where I placed the blame. What I believed was that I could separate the problem from its source. Because believ-ing that my feelings was a problem had nothing to do with my thinking. I thought that I could place the problem there, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the real problem, which was my thinking. Which is impossible, because I never realized this.
I was a very ignorant kid, that the reason why I felt all messed up, I felt like a nothing, is because that’s how I felt. That’s the thoughts that I had about myself. That I was a nothing.
And it wasn’t until I finally got clean that I begin to realize that one was an extension of the other. And when I got clean, that basically what my problem, was that my perception of myself, my perception of the world and everything and everybody in the world was so distorted that I didn’t know the difference between what was real and what was not real. I was in a state of insanity. That’s my problem, that I had been insane all my life.
And as I progressed in recovery I began to see the truth a little clearer. My perception began to change from distorted perception to right perception. And I began to see that my thinking wasn’t all that great. If my thinking was so great how come I spent so many years locked up in penitentiaries? And in fact if my thinking was so great how come I finally ended up in recovery, and in recovery they told me that my best think-ing got me here.
So I begin to really see that what I believed at one time was a lie, what I believed what was happening really was an illusion, and for a long time I couldn’t distinguish reality from illusion.
Which for a long time I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with me, and basically that was my problem. I was insane. Everybody else around me could see that I had a thinking problem, even my father. At an early age he used to tell me, “What the hell is the matter with you? There must be something wrong with your thinking. Do you enjoy being locked up like a monkey? You send yourself back and forth through those places and lock yourself up. What’s the matter with you? There might be some-thing wrong with your thinking.”
And I really didn’t think that there was anything wrong. People like my older brother used to tell me, “Pepe, there must be something wrong with the way you think. Why do you take these drugs? That’s the worst thing you can do for yourself.” And I really didn’t think that there was anything wrong. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t distinguish the truth from the fantasy. And the fantasy was that I was having a good time, the fantasy was that I enjoyed these things.
I didn’t realize that the reason why I was taking drugs is because I was so miserable. I couldn’t face life. But I couldn’t see it. Everybody else could see it. It’s sort of like if you go to an insane asylum, and you meet some guy there, and he tells you that he is Napoleon. You try to convince him that he is not Napoleon. There is no way that you’re going to convince him that he is not. To him, he’s Napoleon. The guy that has B.O., he is the last one to know that he’s got it.
And that was me. I really couldn’t see that my perception, that my thinking was so distorted that I couldn’t see. I couldn’t see the truth. Basically that’s my problem, and for a long time I didn’t know that that was my problem. I thought that the reason why the things were happening to me is because I let the drugs get the best of me. But this time it’s going to be different, this time I am not going to let it happen. And even though it happened time after time after time after time, I still believed that illusion: that this time, it was going to be different.
And I believe that recovery helped me to see the truth. Because within the group of friends that I have made in recovery, other clean recovering addicts, there is some spiritual principle that we try to incorporate in our lives. And it is these spiritual principles that will transform us from this insane person to a person who can see the truth. And the recovery is full of those principles.
I name a few real quick. There is the principle of humility. I believe that without that, we wouldn’t make it. We can’t get clean and stay clean. To me humility means the willingness to accept the truth, just the willingness.
That’s it. And I think that when I finally got clean after beating my head against the wall for year after year after year and almost killed myself, I finally reached that point, I finally reached that level where I was able to give up. I was able to say, “You know what, I am willing to see another way. There has to be another way.” And I was willing to see that way. I was willing to open my mind to some new suggestions. I was willing to become a receptor, a receptor for something else.
And I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the beginning for a whole new way of life to me. And I am grateful that I have to go through all the things that I have to go through to finally beat myself down so bad that I became humble enough. When I got into recovery I was beat. I really beat myself down, almost killed myself.
After many, many years of selling myself, of not only to state penitentiaries but federal penitentiaries and hospitals and insane asylums, and all kinds of — and then running the streets — I lived a very very pathetic and sad life. So I am glad that I had to go through the things I had to go through in order to get to that point where I was finally able to say, “I surrender.”
I feel sorry for those people who have such a strong tolerance for pain that they never give up. They die. Those addicts I know, many, many people that I grew up with, they are all dead. They were not able to say, “I give up.” They were not able to see the truth about what was happening to them. They still lived in that illusion that maybe this time it’s going to be different. And like I said, I finally got to that point where I became humble.
Like I said, without that I don’t think I would have ever made it. There is also the principle of honesty. Honesty to me means the willingness to accept the truth, just the willingness to accept the truth. In other words, honesty is to evaluate and accept conditions as they are. And for a long time I didn’t know what the truth was because I was insane. I couldn’t see the truth. Insanity to me means, when a person is insane what it means is, technically speaking, that person has lost contact with reality. That was me. I was insane.
So I didn’t have the ability to be honest. But my recovery program that I am involved in is a program of rigorous honesty, which means it’s a program of truth. This program tells me the truth about myself. If you are an addict, you are powerless over your addiction and your life is unmanageable. If you are an addict and that’s the truth.
Now, in 1961 I came around after several tries to get clean. Every time I went to a recovery meeting I heard the truth and I stayed clean for six months. I went to a meeting every night. But because I have free will I could either accept the truth or -I can reject the truth, and for a long time I chose to reject the truth.
And this was why I kept going back out and using drugs. What I was trying to do was make an illusion real. The illusion being somehow, some way I could go back and use drugs again and not have all the problems that I had before. And because it was an illusion, I was never able to make it real. And because of that I suffered behind it. I almost killed myself with my way and finally in 1962 the miracle in my life happened. The last time I went out and used drugs, I finally cleaned up.
It was during that time when I was clean: I remembered the things that I had heard in these meetings. I remembered that if you were an addict, there is no way. And I saw it, the truth, clearer than I had ever seen it in my life. There was sort of like a little light went on in my mind, and I saw the truth for the first time in my life. I saw it like I had never seen it before.
And at that moment I knew that there was no way on earth that I could ever use drugs again or drink or whatever, any kind of chemical, and get away with it. I saw it, I saw it, and at that moment something happened to me. The miracle in my life happened to me. And the miracle was I lost the obsession to use drugs. And I believe that the reason for that is because that obsession was part of the illusion that I licked, the illusion that I had a problem with.
Today I don’t have any illusions, I know I am powerless. I am just as powerless today as I was when I got clean a little over twenty-five years ago. In fact, it’s just as strong today as it was then. I know that I am powerless over my addiction. And I think the thing that really saved me was the basic of honesty. I saw the truth for the first time in my life. The spiritual principles are so strong and so powerful that they were able to penetrate this “dog mind” of mine. Because of myself I didn’t do it. The truth finally penetrated my mind and I saw the truth.
We have heard it many times: “Know the truth because the truth will set you free.” Know the truth because the understanding of the truth will set you free. It will set you free from your illusions that were holding you back. This is what it did for me. It set me free from those illusions.
So honesty is one of the principles that got me clean and honesty also to me means consistency. If what I do and what I say coincide with each other, then I am an honest man. But if I say one thing and do the opposite, I am dishonest. And I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that for a number of years. And I used to do this all the time, say one thing and do the opposite. I didn’t realize that I was a pathological liar. I am beginning to see that consistency is honesty.
And then there is the principle of faith, freedom. I didn’t have any freedom for myself, or freedom from drugs or from any system. But as I stayed clean and became involved with other addicts in their recovery, and I began to recover, and I saw other people recover, my faith began to grow. And I saw people that had several years that were clean, and pretty soon I had some time. And I had six months, nine months, and then finally a year. And as I began to grow in recovery, my faith grew in recovery, and today my faith is still growing.
There is also the principle of courage. Courage means to me, it is a state of mind that will enable me to face whatever it is that I have to face, any problem in my life, and not have to run, This one is a hard one for me because I have been a coward all my life, and for a long time I could never tell you that Pepe was a coward.
That was one of the secrets that I held down deep down inside. I could never confess that I was a coward, and that I was a frightened child, that I was full of fear, and that I was lazy and that I felt worthless and that I felt unlovable and I felt ugly and I felt like a nothing. I could never tell anybody that. I could never tell anybody that because in my sick mind I sort of felt like if you see who I really am, you would want nothing to do with me. So what I did for many years is build a wall that I would never let you in.
I never realized it until after I got clean that this was the reason why I was never able to build any kind of intimate relationship with anybody. I was never close to my father. Never close to my mother. Never close to my brothers and sisters. And later on I was never close to anybody. Even women who I lived with, I was never close with them. They used to tell me, “Pepe, you are a closed book. I don’t know you. I live with a man who I don’t even know.” I could never let you in.
So courage is something that is really hard for me. But I have learned how to have a little bit of courage in recovery and open myself up and take a look at myself. It takes courage to be objective with myself and to be self-critical.
I have to do this in order to see myself. And I realized that a lot of these things that I believed about myself are more illusions, because I’ve found out that for a long time I thought that I was worthless. That’s a lie. Since I have been clean and active in my recovery not only have I worked every day, but I have my own business and supported a family. And have a wife and two sons, and I have been able to buy things for them, home, and a nice car, and provide them with good food, and a nice place to live, good clothes.
So this illusion that I had that I was worthless and couldn’t accomplish anything was a lie.
And I have been able to overcome it. I have been able to see that I have some good qualities, and for a long time I wasn’t able to see this because I was locked into these illusions. But it’s taken a lot of courage to take a look at myself, to take a fearless and moral inventory of myself, to see who I really am. I have been able to do this with the help of other recovering addicts. So courage is another one of the principles that we live by, that we incorporate into our lives. Then there is the principle of appreciation, or we can call it gratitude. No matter how bad things seem to be, no matter how bad the situation is, if I can be honest with myself.
I have this situation at home that at one time was very, very difficult for me. I have two sons that have muscular dystrophy. They both have it. They’re both in wheelchairs. They were diagnosed with this disease. They told us they were lucky if they lived to be sixteen years old. And there is no cure.
There is no medicine. There is nothing, no treatment. And these boys will die at a very young age. And at that point it was very difficult for me to handle this. For a long time it was hard for me to really have anything to be grateful for. But as I began to really see what was happening in my life, I see that now I have so much to be grateful for — these two little boys are a blessing in my life. Especially the older son, he is such a spiritual little guy. He is my teacher; he has helped me deal with a lot of things that I haven’t been able to deal with. More than anybody else.
In fact, one time, one time we were sitting by the Sacramento River and it was early in the morning. We were going to do some fishing, and were sitting there, and we were having some hot cocoa just as the sun was coming up in the morning. And he turned to me — he was twelve years old at this time, just before he went into his wheelchair — he says, “You know, Papa, I know that this situation with my brother Eric and I is something very difficult for you to deal with, very difficult to deal with.” He said, “I wish you wouldn’t worry, because I am not afraid. I’m not afraid.” He said, “In fact there is nothing wrong, I am just as perfect right now as I was in my creation.”
I couldn’t understand what he was saying, this little kid. And then he told me something that blew my mind. He said, “I can’t say that about my earth suit. It’s got problems right now. Whether they ever get fixed or not, it’s beside the point. There is nothing wrong with me.” And I realized that this little boy was safe. This little boy was safe because he knew whom he really was. He knew that he was not this body, that this is not his home. He knows that there is nothing that can happen in this world that is going to really affect who he is. But he has been like my teacher, a blessing in my life.
And sometimes when I start feeling sorry for myself because of a situation, I would like to be, if I can be really honest and look at what I really have, there is always something that I can be grateful for, always something, and — especially during that time — the friends that I have that have supported me, stayed by me as I was going through my fear.
So that’s another one of the basic principles that I use in my recovery. You can call it gratitude or you can call it appreciation or whatever. And one of the things about gratitude is that it puts you in the now. My problem basically has been that I have always lived in the past. Or I have lived in the future. Every time I focus my mind on the past, I focus my mind on the people that abused me, or the people that I took advantage of, or the terrible things that I did. And it was all that guilt and all that anger that in a very short time I was very, very angry, uncomfortable, I’m depressed or I’m angry or I’m enraged, whatever. And if I have my mind on yesterday there is no way that I am going to see tomorrow without fear.
Gratitude puts me into the now, right now, and whenever I am in the now, I don’t have those feelings. “Right now” is the only time that I could, would have experienced God in my life. I can’t do it tomorrow or yesterday. Right now. In fact, right now is all there is. Tomorrow is only an extension of the “right now.”
So that’s another one of the principles. And then there is the principle of service: service to my God as I understand him, and service to my fellow man. And service to myself. And this is an opportunity that I can be of service to other addicts and society as a whole. And sometimes we just have to give a little more than just our experience and our strengths and our hope. Sometimes we have to work on our problems. Sometimes we have to give a little money. Sometimes we have to share our food.
And if I meet somebody who doesn’t have a shirt and I have an extra shirt, I should give it to him, or a pair of shoes, or an extra pair of shoes, or a coat. And if he doesn’t have one I should give it to him. Because basically, in reality, I’m really not giving him anything. What I am doing is I’m sharing with him what is truthfully, rightfully his.
See, God made this world and everything in it for all of us. And it is in sharing and giving that we really receive. Because I believe that giving and receiving is synonymous. When I give to you, I really give to myself. When I withhold from you I have less, because basically there is only one of us here.
And that one that I am speaking of is that referred to as the collective unconsciousness, or universal mind, or the Sun ship, or the Christ mind, or the Buddha mind. It all means the same thing, See, when God created a Son, what He did, He extended of Himself, He projected of Himself, and He extended His mind. That’s what we are; we are all of the same mind. It isn’t that your mind and my mind is similar, it’s the same mind. We are all part of the same extension, that universal mind is part of all of us. So when I give to you, whom am I really giving to? When I attack you, whom am I really attacking? When I accuse you, whom am I really feeling guilty about?
I never knew these things before I began getting involved with recovery. I started to get well, I started to see the truth. So basically these are the principles that I try to incorporate into my life, I try to live by. And my son has been the big instrumental part in my life, because naturally he lives by this way, he lives by the thought system of love. There are only two thought systems of the universe. There is the thought system of fear, and there is the thought system of love, or you can call it the thought system of the ego, and the thought system of the spirit, which is the same thing.
For a long time I thought I had many defects of character, but I really don’t. I only have one, and that’s fear. But the reason why I thought I had so many is because fear manifests itself in many forms and many ways. It manifests itself in anger, and in envy, and in malice, and in lust. It manifests itself in jealousy. It’s all fear. If you look at it, it’s all fear, because there are only two fault systems.
And the same thing with love. Love manifests itself in understanding, patience, and kindness. Whenever I’m kind, I’m in love. Whenever I’m patient, I’m in love. Whenever I’m giving, I’m in love. Whenever I’m angry, I’m in fear. And whenever I’m in fear, I’m in ego-consciousness. And whenever I’m in ego-consciousness, how can I be in God-consciousness?
You cannot worship two masters at the same time. Because these two thought systems, we believe one or the other to be true. Every minute of our lives, even when we are asleep, there is never a time when we could be living both of them at the same time, because love and fear cannot co-exist.
I never realized when I got clean that recovery was about to introduce me to a thought system completely contrary to the thought system I had when I was using drugs. That was my problem. The thought system that I believed in and lived by. My thinking was my problem and it’s been corrected. And it’s being corrected every day. I am beginning to see perception a little clearer, and that’s a miracle. A miracle is a shift in the perception. What I see and fear, I now see with love.
Not too long ago I was in Pasadena and I was going to meet a guy and we were going to go into an institution to share our experience, strength, and hope with some addicts there. And it was raining that night. And I went to this place to see if this guy was there and he wasn’t there yet. And it was raining that night. I had my umbrella out and I thought to myself, instead of waiting for him here, I’ll go out in the street and wait for him by the bus-stop, so he wouldn’t have to get out of the car in the rain. I’ll just get into his car and we will go in his car.
So I went out, and I was standing by the bus stop, two guys passed by and then they came back. They tried to rob me and one of them stuck his hand in his coat pocket, and he says, “Give me the fucking money.” The first thing that happened to me was that I was overcome with fear. I was overpowered with fear. Right after that, I was enraged.
And I spent a lot of time in the penitentiary. And out there, when somebody comes to you, you don’t sit there and wait for them to come to you. You go at him. And this is what I did to this guy, I surprised him. That’s the last thing he thought I would do, is come at him. And I went at him with my umbrella. I swung at him, and he ducked, and I thought I would stick him with the umbrella. I got him off guard. And when I went at him, he moved back and he took his hand out of his pocket and he didn’t have anything. He was bluffing. And I really got enraged. He was with this shorter guy and the shorter guy took off running, and when he realized he was alone, he took off running. It was two young guys.
Then I went across the street to my car, got in my car, got a crowbar, and drove off trying to find them. After about a block I told myself, “What the hell am I doing?” And I was so upset I didn’t even wait for this guy to come that I was waiting to meet. I drove home. When I got home I talked to my son about it. And he said, “Dad, you are really upset.” And I said, “The reason why I am upset is if I would have been able to get close to that guy with this crowbar, I would have hit him. And if I had hit him I wouldn’t have stopped. I wanted to kill him.”
I realize now that I stayed in a lot of anger, a lot of shit, and it made me sick. It really made me sick. He said, “Papa, why don’t you go into your room and lay down and try to find your peace?”
And I lay down in bed, and I just tried to relax, I began to think about these two kids. I didn’t know where they were at, see, because for a long time I used to carry a gun, and used to stick it into people’s faces. I did a lot of armed robberies when I was younger and I knew where they were.
And I am not a thief anymore because I understand why I was a thief. The reason why I was a thief was because for many years I had a strong belief and I lacked. I believed everything I needed to in order to provide myself with the things that I needed in this world to survive. I lacked education, I lacked skill, I lacked personality, I lacked motivation, and I lacked everything. And because of that I never thought that I would ever have anything. I never thought that I would ever have an education, or ever have motivation.
I would never have any of these things. So I began to believe at a very young age that if I was ever going to get a piece of the pie, it was because I took it from those who had it. And I knew that these boys, they weren’t really personally after me. The reason why they were doing what they were doing is because they also believed. And then I began to think about this more and more. I got to the point where I felt sorry for these kids. And I thought to myself, “Well, you know, what a terrible thing for these two kids to grow up with that idea. That’s their own punishment. What a terrible thing for them to go through for the rest of their lives.”
And I finally found myself praying for them. And at that moment I realized that my prayer was answered, that conception had changed. I’ve been healed of that fear. I no longer felt angry with them. I no longer felt — I didn’t want to kill them and finally felt some peace within me. Recovery has helped me how to go within me to find the God within me, the love within me, the truth within me. Because that’s what God is. God is true, God is love. And if I can do that, then I’ve become that magnificent man that I have always wanted to be.
I’ve always wanted to be a kinder person or a gentler person or loving person but I could never do it because I was so full of fear, so full of fear. Recovery has shown me a whole new way of life. It’s introduced me to a whole new thought system, which was really contrary to the thought system I had before I got clean. And I can deal with the problems that I have at home. I can see them as fun and happiness. I’m not always depressed, and I’m not all messed up like I used to be. In fact, there is a lot of love and a lot of happiness. That’s a miracle for a dope fiend like me. But it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of patience. It takes a lot of courage.
Pepe died in February 1989 at the age 56 years old.
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