The Rebirth

By Tony Morris
(Used with permission)

My name is Tony. I was born in Brooklyn, NY, into a devout Jehovah's Witness family.

By the time I hit puberty, I knew that I was gay. I also knew that my religion had no tolerance whatsoever for homosexuality. For the next few years, I tried to hide and even change my sexuality through prayer and intense Bible study.

During this time I went with my parents to a store. I was waiting outside for them when two tall men who looked like hippies approached me and handed me a card that read: "Chant Nam Myoho-renge-kyo for your happiness". I did what I believed I should do as a Jehovah's Witness I tore the card up, because chanting was a "device of Satan"!  This was 1983.  I was 13 years old.

After I graduated high school in 1988, I knew that I could not live my life being who I am and live the life of a Jehovah's Witness. On July 2nd, 1989, I made a decision that would change my whole life. After coming out to my family, I was verbally reprimanded in front of the whole congregation for a sexual experience that my guilt-driven conscience made me confess to, bringing shame and embarrassment to my family. My father had to step down from his Elder position in the congregation. I decided to write a letter of disassociation from the Jehovah's Witness religion. I was excommunicated from members of the Jehovah's Witness religion, and my family.

I left home with my family in tears, like their only son had died. I had no idea at the time that, to this day, this was going to be the last time I would see my family since July 2, 1989, not even a picture!

I tried to not let the reality of what I had done sink in, but to no avail.  I was consumed with guilt and a dark, empty pain.

I wasn't away from home for more than six months before I started experimenting with crack cocaine. The high and the lifestyle with this drug was more than the diversion I wanted from my feelings ... and my life.

Over the next few years I tried to call my family, keeping my drug use away from them. But my family saw that I wasn't making any efforts to come back to the J.W.'s, so they told me not to call anymore.

My drug use slowly progressed over the next five years.

Fast forward to the summer of 1994, I found myself in a 12 Step meeting at the suggestion of my employer, who was about to fire me for too many no-call no-shows. By that time I had gone through dozens of jobs, homelessness, and in trying to support my drug habit in and out of jails. My boss who had experience with 12 Step meetings himself, told me to get a sponsor to help me with the 12 Steps.

The person I asked to be my sponsor told me that since I was no longer  medicating my feelings with drugs, I would start "feeling" my feelings, which can be overwhelming. He suggested trying chanting. As he wrote the words Nam Myoho-renge-kyo down, I instantly remembered receiving that card as a young teenager.  This time I was more open-minded to try it out! The first time I chanted "Nam Myoho-renge-kyo," I felt a strong peace and calm I never felt before!

The next few years, I lived like a gypsy living in different states and getting into co-dependant relationships. It was at the end of one of these relationships, in 1997, that I received my Gohonzon in Atlanta, GA. The SGI was a breath of fresh air compared to my J.W. upbringing. I returned to New York to pursue my dream career in music.

Through chanting and participating in SGI activities, I began to make great progress getting D.J. gigs. However I started drinking and smoking marijuana after four years of abstinence, thinking I could "handle it." This eventually led to me using crack cocaine again in the spring of 2002. My drug use had me isolated and trapped in my apartment in a hell that I can't find words to describe! I still chanted, and I wrote a determination on an index card and placed it on my altar. It read "I will expiate the root cause of my addiction."

Even though I was caught in a vicious cycle of using drugs, my determination and prayer was definitely heard, because on July 20th, 2002, I found the courage and strength to put myself into detox. From detox, I put myself into a long-term residential treatment program. This program gave hardcore, intensive treatment that made me face my life and learn to deal with my feelings. I chanted everyday I was there, studied Nichiren Daishonin's writings and Daisaku Ikeda's guidance. SGI members visited me there. I was also able to share this practice with members of the staff and clients who were curious about chanting.

My Buddhist practice gave me the strength to get through this difficult program. However, upon leaving the program June of 2003, my fight had just begun.

For the first time it seemed I started to feel the pain and loss of not having my family in my life. I also realized that this was the "root cause" of my addiction. Through strengthening my practice and participating in outpatient groups and individual therapy, I've been able to slowly confront and deal with these feelings without using drugs!

As of December 2003 I have 17 months of being clean and sober. My family's stance against me has not changed to this day, they moved and told my relatives not to give me their address or phone number. Today I know that I do not need my family's acceptance to be happy and I chant to one day to see them face to face and for them to be happy.

I love this practice! It has saved my life and given me a deep appreciation for my life, but one thing it has given me is hope, especially through my struggles in rebuilding my life. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda wrote: "Hope draws forth our inner potential and strength. It is a magic weapon that enables us to make our dreams come true."

I am currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. I am in college, majoring in audio engineering, and I was offered a job with a record label that I had wanted to work with for a long time!

This practice has given me a family of true friends who I love and who love me for who I am ... which is all I ever wanted!

Tony, YMD, Brooklyn, NY