Every year, like clockwork, these days of acknowledgement and recognition roll around, and each time I find myself unprepared & struggling with how to best show you the depths to which I do care. I know that nothing tactile can properly express it, that no purchasable item can represent it. Monetary conversion proves fruitless & insignificant, never equating that which you’ve given to me, to us, over the years. Sure, it’s a nice perk, so I’ll present both words & a small token of appreciation through a gift certificate. you’ll likely never use. Two sets of receipts.
Dad, I never know how to begin & I have an even harder time attempting an end. I’ve said it all better & in more detail in the past, but I don’t have the luxury of isolation & alcohol to help promote inspiration anymore. Nope. Now, I know you’re right upstairs. I am fully aware that you’re within shouting distance, and quite honestly, THAT level of security & comfort I wouldn’t trade for anything. I understand I’m an inconvenience, a relatively invasive parasite, one who contributes little to nothing. In an ideal situation, I would have my own space, my own life, my own family, my own friends. I’d have what you expected, what you’d hoped. Unfortunately, through no fault of yours, life has veered where we envisioned a direct route & curved in all the wrong places. They say everything happens for a reason & that accidents have a higher purpose. I’m not sure if I believe “they,” but the obvious silver lining to this “failure to launch,” lives in the opportunity to spend more time with you, to get to know you on a deeper, more significant level than I previously had.
I clearly have a difficult time breaking through with others. You’ve told me an incalculable number of times how I’m a capable conversationalist, affable, personable. But, what others see doesn’t necessarily translate to what my brain transcribes out for me. In my opinion, I’m an open book, an honest voice in a society where obfuscating & adjusting the angle reigns supreme. That said, I’m still always afraid of judgment & responses that might skew negative. I want to say the right thing. I want to earn regard. I want to present a package that people want. Thus, a slight sense of unease hovers, shrouding or blanketing my interactions, sullying my enjoyment & perhaps the other party’s as well. It can feel as though a wall exists, even as my soul spills onto the floor in front of us. It’s a touch ironic, but a reality nonetheless. I avoid situations where I’d find myself entrenched in one-on-one exchanges for this very reason, yet, I barely feel that internal dread with you. Not any longer. Quite frankly, I’ve grown to really appreciate & look forward to our conversations, no matter how ridiculous, trite or inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. My subconscious defenses have lowered, my anxieties quelled, my fears calmed. I couldn’t have arrived here without you flitting in and out of my day, always intrinsically knowing that I have your unwavering support, I have your attention, I have your ears, and I have your heart always squarely in my corner, on my team. I’m honored.
I can’t say thank you for that with a batch of pancakes.
I can’t say thank you for that with a “happy father’s day” salutation.
I just can’t.
It’s not even something I can fully express verbally, vocally or in any context. In this case, if it’s not felt, then it’ll never be known. There are few people I believe I’m safe in the presence of, but you’re on that very exclusive list. I can ask you questions that have no answers. I can ask you questions with very exact, precise answers. I can ask you anything and everything, knowing the judgment minor & the possibility of you providing an accurate response trending quite high! I can goof off & make random observations & irreverent proclamations, often thinking aloud, and expect just the precise amount of engagement. We can laugh together. We can cheer together. We can opine together. You listen patiently as I espouse beliefs you counter quietly in your head. You tolerate my rants & rambles. You never make me question my intelligence or condemn me for my individualistic expressions. You accept me as I am, and perhaps love me more for it. You never make me feel crazy, even when I know I am. Truthfully, I’ve grown more capable with your support, tacit or otherwise. I feel it. I know it exists. It gives me strength.
Perhaps you’re not someone who lavishes compliments & praise openly, but you don’t need to. It emanates off of you, in your aura and in your expressions. You, like me, prefer the written word to a round of applause. No matter, I can sense approval or, during those thankfully rarer moments, disapproval. Sometimes you joke about us not speaking the same language, but I think we might comprehend each other better than either of us fully grasps or understands. I tend to over-complicate things. You don’t. I almost always know what you’re trying to explain, but I process information differently. The problem never lies with you, rather the spinning cycle going on within the complexly crowded mess of a mind upstairs.
I’m still not doing a great job at saying what I’d like to say. As with most of my attempts at jotting down an idea & simply expounding, I get lost & I chase butterflies & rabbits until I end up writing a completely different piece than I initially intended. Unpredictable. Attention deficit. This explains why I could never compose an thesis, for one really never exists.
The underlying theme of this well-intentioned, yet last minute clunky disaster is you, and the grateful, depthless love that lives & thrives within.
I’m proud to know you. I’m lucky to have you. I couldn’t have possibly asked for a better moral compass & leader, a more capable father figure, a coach, a cheerleader, a support system, a role model, an inspiration. Your selflessness knows no bounds. Your patience unwavering. Your willingness to give all unmatched. Your reservoir of compassion endless. You define goodness, a paragon of decency. I trust you. I admire you. I look up to you. I look forward to hearing your opinion & take on myriad topics & issues. I listen to you. I value your insight. I mull it over, considering each morsel, whereas I brush off many others as ill-informed, uneducated, or incoherent. I respect what you provide. I respect how you treat others. I find you funny, engaging, & a warm presence in a cold & brutal world, a light in an often pitch black reality.
You stare out at the horizon through a different lens than I. You have stared your demons in the face & tamed many, if not all. You didn’t let the more sinister parts of the human condition affect your outlook, which is always a Hell of a lot more rose-colored than my own (or perhaps, sunsettier?) I’ve altered parts of myself based on words that you’ve said. I’ve adopted elements of optimism. I’ve tried to wake up with a more appreciative mindset. I begun to say thanks for opportunities gifted & am grateful for another chance, whereas before I took much for granted. I saw life as curse rather than a blessing–and watching you made me reevaluate much of this. I’m in no way cured, but my operating system runs differently as a direct result of spending time in your shadow.
Because of you, I’ve seen sights in the wide open spaces of this country of ours that would otherwise have remained mythic & 2-dimensional, images on the computer screen, purely pixelated illustrations of what could be, instead of fully realized actualities. Now? I’ve inhaled mountain air at altitudes that burned the lungs & seared picturesque perfection into my eternal dreams. I’ve dipped my hand into the chilled crystal-clear waters of rivers, lakes & streams tucked away in pockets of the wilderness I’d never had an inkling to explore without you as Sherpa. I’ve hiked trails. I’ve seen the stars. I’ve interacted with historical landmarks. I’ve never doubted your direction, never cowered at your hand on the wheel. Your judgment sound, your knowledge & measured temperament appreciated. You always let us relax & enjoy the show while you do the heavy lifting. I wouldn’t want another captain at the helm, whether it be of a ship or on the way to Shiprock.
I’ve always had shelter. I’ve never questioned your decisions. You give us freedom. You give us choices. I’m always welcome. I’m always included. My input matters. I mean, an entire trip in August is scheduled around something for *me*. I am so lucky.
What I’m trying to say, in so many words, is thanks.
I’ve always hoped you know that I have your back, that I support you, and I always watch & observe you going the extra mile (often underappreciated, in my opinion). I try to say thanks & let you know I notice. I always do. We are all beyond fortunate to have landed in the same life’s sphere, the same journey with you.
Thank you now, thank you always.
I’m currently afraid to get a haircut. This is something I’ve dealt with in the past, off and on, where I’ve shorn my locks off close to the scalp only to go years without a return trip–losing my identity, sense of self, and sense of anything in the process. The entirety of the act of going to the salon that paralyzes me. It’s the getting dressed. It’s the leaving the house. It’s the trip to the place of business. It’s the timidly asking for an appointment, always feeling like a petulance, an aberration who is inconveniencing the entire staff & clientele. It’s the initial greetings. It’s the describing what I’d like done, which in and of itself is always an anxiety inducing process. What looks good on me? What is easy to maintain? What do I want? What do you think? It’s the allowing people to touch my head & hair. It’s inviting people to come within an inch of me, sprawling myself in front of them as a specimen to be examined and dissected with their microscopic eyes. Hyperbolic much? Well, welcome to the functioning patterns of a brain turned up to eleven. Welcome to my Hell. I wonder if they notice the blemishes on my face, and if not the ones currently there, then the ghosts of break-outs past, the pockmarked and the hyper-pigmented graveyard left behind. I may no longer have a face erupted in cysts and papules any longer, but my control center hasn’t quite received that memo and likely never will. The mental image I have of myself is rather analogous to that of the Phantom of the Opera, only my mask has been ripped away from me, leaving me raw, naked, on display & exposed. I can’t even avert my line of sight enough to escape from the stylist’s judgment and perceived condemnation. Sometimes they actually will make comments, which is why not all of this is a figment of my overactive imagination. Keep prying, that first cut is the deepest. Strange as it might seem to the more balanced among us, the comments that serve as compliments are also humiliating and stress-inducing because at the end of the day, I don’t want to be noticed at all. I want to flit about underneath my weighted invisibility cloak, shrouded and shielded from the world swirling and moving forward around me. Drawing attention to myself in any way is the wrong move. My last experience left me paired with a middle-aged gentleman (fear one), one who complimented me frequently, asked if I was sure I wanted to cut my hair short enough to leave the scars on the back of my neck visible. The several inches long slashes, the constant reminders of suicide attempts I can’t ever and won’t ever forget. It’d be a beautiful recovery story thinking that all of that is neatly tied up in a bow and in the past. I’d be such a great success story. But, August wasn’t that long ago and while I don’t have any pretty pink accessories to wear around for all those around me to gawk at, ask questions about, and judge whether or not I’m still crazy or not, it was likely the closest I came to actually calling it quits. It was the only time I planned anything out. It was the only time I wasn’t under the influence of an intoxicant, be it liquor or love, I wasn’t interested in prolonging the pain or experiencing a rush of a warm, wet wound spraying the room–I wanted quiet, peace, and a conclusion to all the madness. a period to the end of a tragic cautionary tale. I was on a high dose of Paxil at the time, doctor prescribed, and thinking clearly, albeit darkly. I felt nothing but a void, empty but calm. From my experience, you reach a point where you’ve struggled for so long and with so few upticks that old tricks & coping mechanisms no longer serve to clot the bleeding– you empty quicker than you can fill up on whatever it is you’ve been living for. You can call it giving up, but it’s giving into something stronger. We don’t always slay our dragons. The hero doesn’t always win. If you haven’t been there, you’ll never get it. And I hope you never will.
I didn’t even finish the terror of getting a haircut. There’s more. Oh well. Although, I do think I successfully conveyed what it’s like, the struggle, the strife, to just get one fucking thing done. Just one simple, stupid thing. Everything is a battle. Everything an endurance test. Everything bordering on the impossible. I cannot & will not dare to speak for another person’s experience in life, but I don’t necessarily believe that I encounter any single emotion or fear that other’s don’t also know on some level–however, I can only deduce that, for me, everything is heightened and frequently incapacitating. Whereas I understand that most can empathize or sympathize w/ my hesitations, my nervousness, my fear, my paranoias, my negativities, my sensitivities, etc, they can work beyond them, they can break through and obtain the reward on the other side of that obstacle. There is no motivator strong enough to coerce me. I shut down. I stiffen. I become a feral animal trapped in a corner, prepared to lash out and escape to freedom, no matter how temporary or debilitating. It’s less refusal to comply, less obstinance, and more an obvious inability. There is something so basic, so intrinsic that I lack within. I’ve thought through it many times. I know what I am capable of & what I am not, and no matter how much you may try to push me into changing, I cannot. I will run. I will hide. I will disappear. I will die. I don’t have the wherewithal to be anything other than what I am today, which is hopefully a little better than it was yesterday. Never any guarantees, such is the life of an addict. And who I am today is an entity who doesn’t quite belong here, one who looks like you, but who isn’t you. Someone who cannot conform or make any of this work without an entire village lifting her up, keeping her safe, boosting her spirits, monitoring her progress, diluting the truth, petting her head and telling her she’s taken care of. My world is so highly contained and so meticulously constructed that if a blip on the radar, an enemy warship suddenly appears forebodingly on the horizon, the entire illusion of any stability or normalcy on my behalf is shattered. I’m a shaky human who can stand only when supported on all sides by those graciously enough to provide me with the dignity of sometimes pretending they’re not even there. I’m like a child learning to ride a bike with their parents trailing behind, offering their steady arms until for a second they let go and I fly free. They give me the gift of feeling accomplished or complete by occasionally releasing me and allowing me to take on a pseudo-responsibility–even if they’re always double-checking my work. They’re allowing me to try and they’re rewarding my successes, while never scolding me for my failures. They’re nursing me back to health. They’re incubating me in this house of order, where I cannot flounder or fall into the ocean. I don’t read it as degrading, I now read it as living and surviving. This is my life now. I don’t have a choice. When I’m threatened, I retreat. When a ripple is felt, I abscond to my room to hide under the covers until the storm passes. If I misinterpret tone, if I misconstrue a comment, if I make a mistake, if I misstep or momentarily lapse, then I collapse into myself, then fall back fifteen steps on this journey towards recovery. It’s a miracle that I’m still here, but only if you consider me a miracle worth saving. I don’t. And the reality is that I’ve only ever promised that I would stick it out as long as those who care for me, those who love me unconditionally are still here, too. And they’re nearing seventy. They’re retired. They’re two people who have another child, and grandkids, and their own worries, goals, and hopes. Truth be told, I’ve also been known to break promises when scared or threatened. There will likely be a dormant grenade within me until my time on this planet is up, only a danger to myself when my options have run bone dry. Believe me when I tell you that I’m trying–I’m trying to catch up to the rest of you. I’ve come leaps and bounds from where I was just a half a year ago, but there is no way for me to do this on my own. And just as importantly, there’s no way I can rush it. I’ve tried before. I’m trying now, but I know that so much of what I say is bluff & bluster. It’s a tactic to boost myself from the pits of the darkest abyss known to existence, as close to the underworld as you can get before Charon ferries my soul to the other side. All of the ways I used to appease and abate my chronic apathy and despondence are no longer viable–I keep crossing my problematic weapons of choice off the list, one by one: alcoholism, self-harm, starvation, toxic parasitic relationships, etc. and in its wake I’m attempting to promote from within, to believe in myself. Make no mistake, I will crumble if the rug is pulled out from beneath me. But, I’ve come further than I’ve been in a long, long time. I’ve been sober since 2014. I’ve not self-harmed in a year. I’m weight-stabilized. These are HUGE, but they are steps and they take work and dedication every day to sustain.
I can share that this year I have found a single hobby that has made me feel more human, no matter how slightly, and that is: going to the movies. I have added a local cinema as one of my safe spaces, a place I have carved out as accepting enough that it (mostly) doesn’t rattle or cripple. It joins the oh-so-expansive list including, and strictly limited to, the grocery store and the occasional trip to Walmart or Target. I don’t go to restaurants. I don’t go to clubs. I don’t go to shows. I don’t go out of town. I don’t go shopping. I don’t go out with friends because I don’t have any and don’t know how to make them. I come with strings. I come with caveats. I come with limitations. I don’t go date or hook-up because of this beautiful combination of anxiety preventing me from ever feeling confident or deserving and a knowledge that as a borderline personality disorder sufferer that meeting anyone could set me back to square one. I’m a liability no matter what I do. A bond with other people is an essential element to our happiness and continued existence, but it’s also a weapon I can use to impale myself & take my vulnerable victims out in the process. I go to sleep every night often thinking, hoping, dreaming of skipping the next day. I sleep throughout the afternoon until I wake to repeat the same routine that I dread & detest, but also find comforting and enslaved to because of obsessive tendencies and an eating disorder that will never subside, just continue to reincarnate in other equally damaging phantasm–anorexia, excessive exercise, chemical-induced purging, bingeing, overeating. you name it, I’ve had it, and like a Zoetrope the disease changes ever so slightly until it’s something else, but it always repeats, eternally spinning. Some days I bathe, some days I don’t. It’s an amalgam of passive indifference, lethargy, and an outright revulsion & fear of having to come face-to-face with the body I actively avoid dealing with or looking at. Yes, I’m that person wearing a hoodie and sweatpants in the middle of summer. At the very least, I can look at my reflection now. Sure, it takes a little preparatory work, but it’s an accomplishment in its own right and something I couldn’t do for the bulk of my twenties–Hell, some of these scars are from shards of a shattered mirror, intentionally symbolic. Dramatic? Yes. Poetic? Enough. I can tolerate my appearance at a distance and intermittently, but I haven’t yet fully embraced what my body is at this stage, or at any other. So, I will find any excuse to avoid disrobing–making showers difficult and highly inconvenient. Trust me, I’ve tried. So, I skip it. I skipped today. During my alcoholic withdrawals, I’d go days and days without any sort of cleansing, but that was a safety precaution. It just wasn’t safe to shower, as I couldn’t stand. And it wasn’t safe to bathe, as I had a history of seizures during this detox period. This is a choice, or so I’m told. I don’t always see it that way. I will change my underwear, use a feminine wipe and hope for the best. Even if I do rinse off the sweat and grime, I frequently repeat the same unwashed clothes, which are as loose and ill-fitting as I can get away with during my daily trip to the grocery store–another one of those safe spaces. Here, I’ll buy part of what I need to construct a highly regulated meal, one that is doing my body zero favors, but has become a habit so deeply ingrained that I have panic attacks when I try to veer away from it. It will shift, when my eating disorder dictates that it’s time to try something else. It’s not a matter of if, but when. I’m not in charge of that part of my life, internally, but to those on the outside it appears that I am difficult, persnickety, or thirsty for control. I don’t fight that inherent stigma, but I’m really not the one pulling the strings… my illnesses are, and the repercussions from not abiding by their demands are costly & lasting. In the psych ward, I didn’t eat. No one cared. No one lifted an eyebrow. I optically behaved well. I put in my 72 hours and got released for being a good little prom queen starlet. I had eighteen stitches in my neck holding together a razor blade wound, an action I committed in front of my girlfriend just to get a reaction. She had to stay up all night holding my wound together. It cut through all the layers of dermis. We were a new couple. I gave her night terrors for quite some time. Selfish, obsessive, out of control, and totally fucking insane. But, I played into what the staff and doctors wanted or needed me to be, and got out with a damning diagnosis but no real fix or direction. Gotta love state institutions, gotta love being an unimportant afterthought to those you pay to care about you. I also developed a staph infection while there, but that’s another story.
And yet here I am again, once more having to prove to some higher being whether or not I’m crazy enough or not enough crazy to be included somewhere. And once again, the outcome of that decision dictates my future, my stability, my mental health. For the people on the other side, it’s a matter of checking off boxes, of filing paper work, of just being a government servant paid to not care or get too involved. For me, it’s my entire world, my life. The way I’m asked to prove I deserve a five-hundred dollar a month stipend to survive off of is to present them with documentation that I don’t have. Here’s something they don’t tell you when you get on disability for a mental illness: they won’t help you get better. Maybe it’s different when you live in a big city, but I don’t. I live with my parents in the town I grew up in, in the house I grew up in. I’m an hour outside of Houston. I don’t own a car and I can’t drive long distances outside of my familiar roads in town. They offer rides, but to where? I can’t get an appointment. Their assistance ends with that check. It’s up to you to magically become a capable adult who can make decisions and phone calls, who can get out of bed, conjure up the ability to rid yourself of anxiety and depression while you try to treat your anxiety and depression. It’s an unfair proposition, also unrealistic. I’m not crazy enough to commit, but I’m not too crazy to be a recipient of aid. I’ve long felt that the governmental goal is to offer only the illusion of help, to give hope only to have it dashed against the rocks upon the realization that its largely farcical–then have me kill myself, and just disappear. No longer suckling off the teat of what must be a very disadvantaged government. I hope that I could at least become a martyr as a statistic that this shitty system does little to care for its recipients. I can arrive at no other explanation when I’m scanning a list of psychiatric providers offered by the mandated insurance, having my parent ring up each and every one only to have them reject you time & time again. No provider within a 60 mile radius will accept me–sometimes we’ll have a lead to chase and eventually, inevitably dead-end, but during that period of uncertainty you Google the doctor and it’s a one-star review minefield claiming it’s the type of situation where you’re not listened to or heard, but doled out countless prescriptions at high&heavy doses. This is not the way to fix anyone. This is not the way you address a problem. It’s the way you try to make a problem go away. I’m not the type of person you want to have just disappear. I’m someone who might be able to contribute if given the direction, aid and support they need. I am not sure that my abilities cannot be channeled into something constructive and beautiful. I have obvious limitations. I have invisible disabilities. I have poor, practically nonexistent, central vision. I cannot see what’s not magnified and pasted to my glasses. My colors aren’t as vibrant. I squint and I fret. I fluster. I frustrate. I can’t read a menu. I can’t read subtitles or instructions. But, I can pass a driver’s test. You can’t document my issues in a way that is nice and neat. I can’t sell you on the state of my mental health because I’m not someone who fits into a category. There isn’t a single aspect of my life that’s not touched by my disorders, whether it’s the anxiety, the ADHD, the borderline, the eating disorder, the herniated disks, the depression, the vision, etc. Sometimes they come at me from all angles, pinning me down, restricting my ability to wiggle free or reach an outlet. The possibility exists that I’ll never be anything more than who I am at this moment. Maybe I’ll end up in an institution until my dying day. Maybe I’ll relapse into oblivion, God knows I’ve certainly thought about it. Maybe I’ll always need help. But, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll keep chipping away at this monolith and emerge victorious in the end–with scars and stories, but nothing I can’t conquer. Maybe I’ll be something even you could admire or respect. Maybe I’ll help people who suffer from what I free myself from. Maybe? I’m not there yet. I’m not even close. I need help, but I need it to come closer to me. I need it to be accessible. I can’t get there alone. So, what am I supposed to do? If I lose this coverage, I’ll be destroying my parent’s lives even further. I’ll lose the access to the few comforts I’ve grown to rely upon. I’ll lose a sense of freedom that I’ve enjoyed up until now, a freedom that made me feel less like a burden and more like a person–the importance of which cannot be overstated enough. I’m not magically cured when the last payment comes, I’ll be worse. You may think it’s a sink or swim scenario, which I suppose it is. I will sink, so don’t hold your breath, but maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. I’ll lose the ability to see the dermatologist who almost single-handedly saved my life with their miracle prescriptions. I’ll lose the ability to see the optometrist, who I rely upon as someone with a visual disability. I simply cannot function without a prescription pair of glasses. I recently had pterygium removal surgery, which was covered and recommended by my doctor to prevent further vision loss. I have followups. I have optic neuropathy, which will never disappear or improve. I’m a lifelong patient, but if I can’t afford it, then I have zero idea what happens then. I just don’t know. I’m terrified, more so than usual. And at the root of it all, I’ll lose access to the psychiatric help that I desperately need, desperately crave, but haven’t been able to obtain just yet. I need a village, and if not, then let me go. None of this is easy. And I’m eternally sorry.
I’ve been better.
Or, at least that’s what I’ve robotically repeated to myself. each morning, for the last handful of days. I’m not sure what changed this week, but someone, or something, shook up the snow globe, thus putting a formal halt to the halcyon period of the previous week. Remember laughter? Remember dreams? I think I even used the term “easy breezy” way back then, way back when? Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that I was able to skate through the hours unscathed; protected from the denigrating internal dialogue.
And then it shifted, what was, is not any longer.
Sure, I could flip through my therapy books, skim the pages for a solution to this most recent about-face. I could, and perhaps I should…and likely I will. But, before I do that, before I deep-dive into the somewhat bamboozling world of gentle musings and the hypnotic sing-song of mindful meditation, I want to briefly document some of the rambling thoughts and raw feelings that have compounded within
I’ll keep it brief as I don’t enjoy the act or art of writing anymore; the pressure to perform overwhelms, the outcome invariably disappoints. I’m not well-read, well-educated, well-rounded, so how could I possibly flourish on the page? I can’t, this becomes especially true when I compare myself to greats…and I do. Yet, in this particular case, it seems imperative to, at the very least, attempt to decipher the puzzling nature of my circuitry.
I used to think I was unfairly looked down upon; some sacrificial lamb with a target painted broadly upon her back. I could have been anyone, wouldn’t matter the face nor the name, for the end result would be the same. The haughty elders perfectly perched upon their bench in the skies, us craning our necks upward in a desperate seek of approval–them casting judgment, doling out loaded opinions but never offering a hand or support. At the time, I believed it a direct attack, and it was, but what has changed, with maturation & distance, is my positing that it was unjust, undeserved, unnecessary. My 2018 verdict: unseemly, but warranted.
Their concern was not in sparing my feelings, rather rescuing their daughter. I get that now.
Back then I didn’t recognize that I was someone to be freed from, that I was the monster the whole time.
What does this acknowledgment mean for me?
I grapple with determining what my role in modern America is, where I fit in, what I can offer and how do I get to a point where I’m less leech and more symbiont. I’m not naive in believing a balance exists, one where you flit about pinging and ponging, giving & taking, providing & using, creating a sort of equilibrium. It’s how society functions. It’s the way things work.
My reality does not jive well with my personal expectations. I am able-bodied. I am privileged. I am tenderly nestled in the elbow of a supportive family unit. I am cradled. I am coddled. I am tended to. I am not blissfully unaware of my situation. I am sharp enough to recognize all facets; perpetually scanning the perimeter of the room, detecting subtle shifts in attitudes or atmosphere. My sensitivity siren is blaring, it’s like spidey-sense, but completely fucking useless. Heightened states of alertness and self-awareness certainly outrank the alternative, which is sedated & subdued. I guess there is no perfect state of being, but I’m comfortable admitting that I’d prefer trending towards stable and capable. It’d be of great use to have the emotional wherewithal to lift myself out of bed, peeling my form away from its outline in the sheets, to take literal and figurative steps in a direction rather than suspended animation, slipping from the stagnate.
I’m getting overwhelmed, again. Deep breath, kid. You can do this. I can do this. I’m competent enough to bang out a few strung-together thoughts on a scantly attended blog, right? Surely. Yet, I doubt even this. All I have to do is pluck a few musings, at random, from the super-highway using my skull as a fucked-up Globe of Death! Alas, that means I have to slow down, if only for a second, to turn down the noise. Ready or not.
I can’t move; my head’s a frozen solid, a block of ice–refusing o budge…I refuse to budge. Or relent.
I lock my hands onto the sides of the jaw, physically twisting & turning until the head snaps unceremoniously back, into a position resembling that of FOCUS. The awkward contortion, the propped up tilt, the eyes drifting towards the distractions streaming in from every direction, like moth to flame.
But, I’ll try. I’ll try now. I’ve come this far. Fixate on a point. Inhale.
I wonder if a human has any worth when they’re incapable of contributing to the forward propulsion of life, to a 401k, or even to an intelligent conversation. Is there a place for people like me? People like us? What kind of person even am I? I can’t firmly put a finger on it, for the second I apply pressure to a particular checkbox, it blurs & dematerializes. My frustrations (justifiably) mount as each day turns to night, another rotation complete, with no changes to document, no development to share. I mark the passage of time with scratch-marks on the wall, like a prisoner awaiting a visitation, a shipwrecked survivor on a desolate island.. no welcome party, no rescue party, no one is going to save me. Any chance I have at achieving a freedom from the confines of my mind will either come from within, or they won’t come at all. No one else can step in and pull me from the flames licking my heels. No one.
That’s a disappointing realization simply because GOD KNOWS that my fantasies of falling for a psychiatrist, one who magically unlocks the secret to my sanity are cinematic works of art and wonderful morale boosters/time killers. But, also wildly unlikely. (SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE?)
Looping back to a previous paragraph of inane drivel, I don’t think I’d actually be a willing participant in any type of coupling at this juncture. My burden & strain has been recognized and I cannot unseen what has since revealed itself to me. There is no plausible scenario where someone’s misguided initial attraction to me would not eventually be the source of our romantic demise, my sheer existence would doom us. The youthful spirit emanating from within, the one that drew you to me, would eventually morph into you no longer waning to mother, nor care for a crippled soul. If it’s hard to imagine now, just trust me. It happens. Everything can be fun when new. I have a personality. I have things to say. I have myriad qualities that can charm & endear others. I can understand that, while also objectively identifying the other, more odious & likely insurmountable, issues that doom & plague. It’s not personal, but it so is. I can surgically excise my heart from its cage, place it in a sealed, sterile container on the counter, a specimen to analyze and dissect… while it still beats and bleeds… Simultaneously knowing and aching.
I’ve done this before. I’ve been here before. No second went by where I didn’t long to be more than what I was, to offer her comfort, to provide, to support but wanting is often not enough. Quite simply, I lack the stamina to get up and slay the dragons every day. It’s not an absence of drive or determination–it’s something else and remaining incognizant to what the missing element is… kills me. I don’t mean that literally, at least not yet. But, it dims my light, which often serves as the only mobilizing motivator remaining in my arsenal.
I have endurance and grit, but I rely on it to survive.
It’s the damndest thing, how I’m managing to exist in my current state…because that’s what it is: existing. Even when I try to paint it in a different color, select a different spotlight, attempt a new brush… it is what it is. I don’t quite have the audacity to call it living, but I can’t quite come up with a term more apt than existing. It’s a struggle, but a first-world one.
To dictate a day: I take sleeping pills to extend my slumber as long as I can physically handle. I have herniated discs in my neck that would prefer I either eject myself into space or lay submerged in water ’til the skin sloughs off entirely– revealing the skeletal structure my anorexic brain always overtly pined for. When I reach my fill, I drowsily drag my bloated carcass (undoubtedly from last night’s binge) to the bathroom where I decide if I’m going to shower or not. This has become a choice, not a mandate. The time will now be between 2-4, but there have been blessed days where I reached 5. THIS IS PM, BY THE WAY. Next, I’ll do a curt evaluation of my appearance: check for new blemishes, grab a pawful of flesh and give it a shake, observe the nature of the unruly mop with its shock of mocha overtaking the bleach-blonde….remnants of a previous identity crisis (of which there have been many!) This once over will determine my “look,” which today is a baggy tourist-tee, a pair of gift shop sweatpants, and a baseball cap. Make your own calculated determinations as to how I’m feeling on a scale of 1-10.
The remaining hours will be spent watching television, going for a walk, doing some rudiment poorly-formed abdominal exercises w/ some haphazard weight lifting as the cherry on top of this shitcake. I might cook for my family and I might not. I am mainly just checking my wristwatch, fast and furiously, trying to see if it’s time to trek to the store for my nightly smorgasbord and accouterments. If not, I’ll peruse the world wide web for a comparable form of gluttony; poison to clog up the mental arteries the pizza cannot reach. After all, I am exactly the type who endlessly mindFULLY, scrolls through instagram wondering why I can’t be more like them. The them could be anyone.
This is my routine. This is all I am. This is all I have. As the months draw on, as gravity wears on this inexplicably youthful visage, I can glean from certain interactions and instances that I am capable of more, that I am stronger, sturdier than I could have ever claimed before… but that I have no idea how to pedal up and out of this depressive chasm. It is so deep, but is it too deep? That is the question.
There has never, to my knowledge, been a complete competent version of me. That model hasn’t come off the production line just yet. Perhaps, not even a prototype. Sure, you can contest that no one is ever a fully realized paragon of their best assets & best moments, their best self, but you would likely also agree that most are evolving in some manner. And I don’t think that I am; this terrifies me.
I am like a movie that, on paper, looks like a hit, an Oscar contender, a masterpiece, but despite featuring all of the content and characteristics of a winner– it is, for whatever reason, an incomprehensible calamity; more Frankenstein’s monster than a Picasso. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t–all the crayons are beautiful on their own, but a muddled muddy mess when combined. Ask any kid.
I have all the components that could, nay should define success, yet nothing clicks–just a bunch of shiny spinning gears, rotating independently of one another…eternal disconnect.
There’s a lot of waiting involved, a lot of hoping that it’s all a phase, that it won’t stick, that I’ll outgrow the maudlin malaise and emerge from a cocoon a fully-fledged butterfly. But, hey, I’m 32 now and my wings are starting to wilt.
So, what now? What becomes of the feeble masses who the government brands disabled, but who wants for more than a label to cower beneath? I don’t want to disappear, but I fear being seen. I am screaming in silence and I’m angry. I’m not sad, not defeated, or at peace. I’m mad. It’s manageable and most of the time I’m docile, placated via the inherent osmosis stemming from communal living. There’s enough in those around me’s world to dizzy up the girl, whereas mine is a gaping black void. Be careful, it will suck you in too, if you came any closer J’m sorry, I can’t quite hear you from way over there, just a few more inches and it’ll all be crystal clear. Entrapment.
Would you want to leave this face?
Wait until you see me cry.
Maybe everything I do is a subtle form of manipulation. It’s never intentional. In the moment, I am not even fully conscious of it, but my seemingly inescapable state of fear and desperation leads to many unsavory act. That isn’t an excuse, rather an explanation andhe only I can offer.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for turning their backs, or for burying their face in a book as I crawl past, knees bloodied, arms outstretched, begging for help, for mercy. After all, I’ve been on this macabre merry-go-round for a decade plus. Only so much can be offered to a voracious bottomless pit before you’re left empty-handed or you, too, become a part of the problem. That’s not your fault, you’re only human. You either run dangerously low on your own supplies, grind your teeth down, nails down, wit down, or you believe that my incapability to pull myself is my own fault, my own doing. They’re both probably partly plausible. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.
I’ve played scenarios out in my head, always in outdated 8-bit with a synth heavy soundtrack, and I never can defeat the final boss. I can’t even be the hero of my own story. I imagine the Duck Hunt dog laughing at me.
So, what is left to try?
Is there a way to sublimate my maladies into miracles, my afflictions into attributes? If there is help to be had, I may need a better map. I’m navigating in circles and I’m unsure how many more revolutions I have in me. I’ve made the cardinal error of allowing other people’s words an entry way, a direct line to my soul. I’ve given them safe harbor, a location to incubate and grow, where their sulfuric vitriol, their over-simplifications, their sweeping condemnations, that thinly veiled rancor reverberates off the echo-chambers of my ribcage, rattling when I try to shut down and recharge. Yes, I read the comments. Yes, I distort and make it all about me. Yes, I know you didn’t mean me, but there is no them without a me. I’m part of the discussion. I am the discussion. I’ve become convinced that I am worth what I can pay, what I can churn out, what I can supply. And that’s a resounding none, nothing, and nada. Pressure won’t shake a balletic performance from this barren hasbeen–maybe I neverwas. Maybe, I never could. Historically, when my back is held firm against the wall, I don’t step up…I step out, I run away, I disappear. If I’m challenged enough, I may never return or recover. So, what is a life worth?
Better question: How can you fix that?
I hope the version2.0 has worked out the kinks (not too much though, because let the records show I’m kink-positive 😉 ).
All that said, today I am a force. Today, I have fight. Today, I was present and I did the best I fucking could. That’s enough, and I hope it always is.
Here’s to tomorrow.
I was always a competent writer, but I grew to rely heavily upon it as my only outlet to cope, declutter and decipher the seemingly inscrutable chaos exploding within. I struggled so mightily with verbally communicating my thoughts. I could taste the words I wanted to say. I could visualize them, tracing them with my finger and tongue. They were right there behind my eyes. I hoped those around me could see through the stormy galaxies of the iris… everything I breathed for, stood for, fell for, stayed for… right fucking there. But, I couldn’t ever get the confidence to speak these sentiments. My anxiety stripped everything from me.
So many memories of blood filling up my throat, gargling, bubbling, tongue swelling up, knotting in a myriad of nautical twists and ties… gulping, swallowing hard, gasping for a breath, drowning from the panic. I so desperately ached to be strapped to a gurney with my chest opened up, breast bone cracked, ribs splayed and splintered, ripped apart and prepped for autopsy. This isn’t some imagery conjured out of a thirst for peace after death, sculpted from a fever dream of my post-mortem, rather a desire to be understood.
No one gets me because I am enigmatic and aloof. I’ve never figured out how to convey and connect the dots between how I feel and who I am, to what others are able to see. It’s maddening and I suffocate. I completely shutdown. I’m constantly misinterpreted or written off, branded incorrectly or labeled prematurely–so much so, and with such frequency, that I stopped tying. I gave up. I play the jester, the joker, the lunatic with a history, the drop out, the nothing, the no one, the one with a bright past and a dark future. I am who they want or need me to be. I believe their swift condemnation because the facts line up, although I know the reality is much murkier. I don’t possess the energy or wherewithal to showcase any worthiness because nothing about me has ever been good enough.
But, I can write. I can live within the words up on the screen. It’s like I can craft my own screenplay, compose my own alternative reality. It’s my respite. It’s my gift. My mind absorbs the world in a uniquely poetic way. I capture and process moments and milestones with such sentiment and depth, which manifests itself as either a dazzling opus or a bone shattering, blow to the knee incapacitation. It’s all based on how we are able to organize and interpret those BIG FEELINGS! I have, as of yet, failed to unlock the key to managing and maneuvering my concurrent blessings and burdens with any semblance of grace or adroitness. My world, as it stands, is a gridlocked clusterfuck of a hellscspe. Instead of bolstering me up, my empathy and endless capacity to love has sidled me with an inability to function or move forward.
My former relationship, that romance, as doomed as fated as it was, gave me all I ever wanted, needed or even knew I could have. It was my version of a fairy tale and it was my literal death sentence, all in one adorable little freckled redheaded package. It’s hard to describe how grateful I am to have experienced that degree of true, real, honest love and ardor, but also to accept that because of it… I may never be whole again. It’s like admiring the craftsmanship of the casket you’ll soon be buried in. Kissing the woman in front of me, having her tuck my hair behind my ears as she releases the rope of the guillotine.
When she composed her apology letter to me, she wrote how much it weighed on her that she hurt me in a way she never knew she was capable of. I sat and stared at her word choice, at the impetus and intent behind them, and I cried for an indeterminate, yet significant, amount of time.
I realized we were never on the same page. She was my life, my actual and only reason for breathing. I placed my whole heart, my entire future, messily beating and pulsating in its own rhythmatic way* her hands, her perfectly imperfect hands, clasping with a delicate soundness around it; my own, gently atop as a show of reciprocation and eternal connection. I gave everything I had to her. All of it. Hers to do what she wished with. We were together for almost seven years. I allowed myself to envision us aging, growing old together, her running a rustic frame shop in the mountains where she also sold her artwork–a gallery of sorts. I could picture it. She could paint is. I could construct it, if she’d accompany me. I could imagine us being a success story where so many others failed; a couple who dipped their toes into the magma of the underworld and came out on top, together.
“Together we will live forever”*
Realizing that even in THIS relationship, the one I both treasured and coveted, I was actually alone… has nearly killed me. I am trying so hard, every day, to convince myself that even though she callously tossed me aside, that I deserve love. It’s nearly impossible when you KNOW you were not enough. That is the reality. I wasn’t. But, I’m trying.
I try to think of it in terms of a child outgrowing their favorite toy; sleeping beside it every night, needing it to feel safe, empowered and brave for years… then, one day, you don’t. You just don’t. And you can’t explain why it happens, but it does. There is no going back. Some of them get sold in garage sales, given away, and some get stored in the attic to be taken out of a box every now and then to reminisce and smile back upon. I was just incinerated. That’s the hard part.
We weren’t perfect and I was struggling. She believed my hardships were selfish or somehow about her. It wasn’t easy. It was until it wasn’t. I couldn’t compete with a new toy. And I can’t be upset that she changed, evolved and grew. I’m not. I never was. I was hurt. I am allowed to be. She was all I ever wanted. She was the one, and there may or may not be another who can replace that huge void. I can’t predict or expect that.
But, most of all, right to the fucking core, at the root of it all, she was my best friend. I wasn’t hers.
I look back at my adult life and I have nothing to show for any of it. Nothing except a handful of long-winded blogs lamenting my existence and a map of literal scars covering the entirety of my body. I always wanted the outside to match the in. I got my wish. But, there is more to me than that. It has not been excavated yet, but I am still here, ya know? I cannot figure out why unless there is something else worth discovering in my future.
I also still haven’t lived out my fantasy of wearing fishnet stockings, some leather and tricking someone into believing I’m sexy… and I’m going to get there.
have I ever been happy? do I even know what that means? I half-heartedly swipe through the collection of memories I’ve kept easily accessible for reference and cannot make this determination with any true definiteness. I remember these moments, these captured realities. I remember the shots being snapped, but each one comes with an addendum sidled to it. I am unable to conjure up many times where that smile was not duplicitous; masking a nervous uneasiness I could never show or chose not to.
I can’t separate the good from the bad. And the bad usually always overshadowed the true unhinged laughter that I so desperately crave to let loose. I’m prone to fits of hysteria, true bellowing guffaws. I have an easy smile. I flash it freely. I hope to exude a warm energy to those around me. There is so much pain right below the surface, simmering, always on the precipice of erupting into something approaching cataclysm. None of it malevolent. None of it stemming from my repressed subconscious. None of it having any basis on actuality. I am sharp enough to realize my insanity.
I could construct an experience as a skilled neurosurgeon with a scalpel in hand, down to the last minute detail, and somehow only come away with a handful of instances packed full of misery. It’s not that I’m pessimistic. It’s not that simple. Nothing is. It seems that the lows are just so intense; so, disproportionately inflated that they crush the more joyous ones into ash. Those minor mishaps that most can nonchalantly flick from their conscious mind will embed themselves into my every surfaced recollection.
I can’t shake the shadow that looms by the bedside.
It happens in slow motion, but with stealth & mad determination, a fog rolls in casting a distorted shimmer over each frame and every scene. A flicker here. A ripple there. It’s a lens that I cannot wipe clean, a filter I cannot remove. All my lived in moments, those which should fit snugly and provide comfort, my timeline, all caked with disquietude.
Everyone encounters situations that test their ability to adapt All of us have faced the unexpected. Plans are never truly rock solid: shifts in circumstance or capricious whims emerge. The script, always susceptible to last minute rewrites or an impromptu ad-lib from the supporting character, dictates the forward motion. Those whose roles should never evolve to more than a silhouetted head-shot somehow infiltrate and imprint upon my conclave of Kodaks for eternity. I’ll never know their name, nor their face, but the impact will nonetheless leave a lasting impression. It’s the feeling that I fail to evade.
I don’t even know how to fully explain it. My complete and utter inability to verbalize my thoughts continues to plague me at every turn– is it a vestigial remnant from my alcoholism? is it damage that cannot be reversed? or just another symptom underneath the umbrella of anxiety?
And when I attempt to jot down why I encounter so much trouble trying merely to survive another day, it seems just as pathetic as I know it is. I appear dramatic. I appear infantile. I know this. I get it. I see it. But, it’s not just a case of theatrics. I’m not that person. I want to slip into the background. I don’t want to play a starring role, even in my own story. I want to be noticed, but remain unsung. I want to be cared for, but only when I care more. I want control, but please take the helm. No choices I make are correct, but I’m only safe when I lead.
Change petrifies, but I’m encased within a stone fortress as it sits. I’m dying here, but out where it’s unfamiliar is a fate worse than death. Or so I fear.
Yes, it always comes back to fear. That is all anxiety is, right? A fear of the unknown. A fear of what will come. I’ve always loved knowing the end to the tale. I loathe the suspense. No surprises. No loose ends. Nothing open to interpretation. Black. White. Oh, yes, here are again at the world’s worst game of chess.
Or perhaps I’m just facing an opponent worthier than I.
I am always engaged in these futile attempts to outmaneuver the other side. I foolishly portend that there are particular avenues and alleys that I can turn down & hide. I, quite naively, foresee myself rationing out ways to win. I can textbook this. I’ll even show my work this time. See, see! I scream to no one. I bleed out the equation, the ink spills over the crevices and folds. I pick and choose from self-help books, anecdotes and witticisms. Did you see this article?, they say. Take this pill. Eat this food. Try this exercise. WELL MY MOM SAID…
I stir up all that divulged to me and force-feed it down my throat. It burns and sears on the way down. This will be the antidote. My cure.
I’m always doubtful, but my eyes have a glimmer of hope to them, do they not? They’ve turned a new shade of blue this year. Still ugly. Still blind. But, that has to mean something.
I can convince that this time is different. I do that well. I wear that well. I’ve turned a corner. I’m cruising down easy street. I’m strutting. I’m stomping. I’m bouncing off the walls. If I stand upright. If I don’t let them see the lump in my throat, the clenched fists, the slight tremor rush over me, then I can fake it until I make it. I read that somewhere, right? I can beat this. What’s the worst that could happen?
This. All of it. My every second of every day is the worst that could happen. I’m living it. Every word I manage to eke out, to type, comes with a voice saying “give the fuck up, it’s all for naught.” I can do no right in my mind. All I can see are imperfections. No reflection of this visage placates the insatiable beast within. I hear compliments, but they’re spoken via a foreign tongue. I cannot grasp it. Dysmorphia might describe the physical aspects, but I believe it a disservice to the summation of this disordered way of thinking to whittle it down to just that. I meditate on the accolades accumulated along this path to nowhere and think them retroactively void of any meaning. Surely, my successes and lauded accomplishments could not exist without a grave misunderstanding. I deserved nothing. I earned nothing. All of it a fluke. Each checked box an exception to the rule.
It’s truly frightening to live as a captive, trapped within a body whose mind plays the super-villain. I attack myself until I’m nothing more than viscera & dulled bones. I’m afraid of the control room. I knock with trepidation, but the disconnect remains so great that the door never even cracks. Not once. I cannot connect the two parts of me. The expanse of the void, too vast. I worry that I’m too far gone.
I can see myself glinting off the light in your eyes. I know you see me. I can feel that. I fail when it comes to deciphering between genuine love because of who I am or an obligation to protect. And it matters to me. One is not enough. And one is all I need to survive. My fuel, my fire.
I wish I saw what others must. But, I can’t. I’ve tried. I cannot find one element to my being that I want to show to you. I can only present an empty box. I don’t know who I am until you tell me. Make me into something. Mold me into what you need. I’ve given up. I must have. The hollowed sunken eyes of a weary soldier, battered from years of war and neglect– bloated and distended as the process of decay begins. I walk around like that. I catch a glimpse in the dimmed window and that vision transmits straight to my psyche.
Yet, I still find something to get up for every day.
I’m fortunate to have family that protects me from becoming a statistic. Without them I’d take up life on the streets. I’ve mentioned this many times to faces of both utter disbelief and sheer panic, but the respect I have for myself ceased to exist long ago. I would, without hesitation, whore myself out for drugs, money, shelter. Whatever it took. I can dissociate and leave my body any time I need. It’s my only saving grace. Thank goodness for that.
As I’ve mentioned, my only satisfaction comes from finding my place in another’s world, whether ephemerally or eternally, as long as it can last. I’m yours. Abuse me, use me, but lay beside me at night and tell me that you love me. Let me feel that. Let me believe you, just for today. I’ve heard it, but my doubts have always proven impossible to shak. I think that love comes and goes. I don’t believe it to persist. It’s not static. I’m afraid if you leave, even for a moment, that next time won’t be the same. The charade will cease to exist. It’s all so much.
When I fall asleep at night, I do so unsure if there is a single person out there who could ever think of me as their eyes closed. I don’t believe I could ever exist in another’s dreams. I can’t imagine how I belong in anyone else’s story. And I want to. I just want to make someone smile. Everything that I find so challenging, I want to make easier for others. I want those who I deem worthy, those who I cling to, to never experience the pain I’ve relentlessly (and without respite) endured.
I’m numb now. It doesn’t hurt to the degree in which it has, once upon a time when I still felt as though great things existed just on the other side of the hill. I lost that last bit of innocence last June. I have never blamed her. I knew the liquor kept her from seeing what I knew all along, that I’m a ghoul. I’m a black hole absorbing all the light before us, sucking everything in, using, taking, needing, requiring, so much energy, so much mass, giving nothing of any value back, because I never had anything to give. She sobered up, wised up, and left for greener pastures. It did not kill me, but it extinguished that last bit of faith in a future where I could escape my cage long enough to feel that touch of warmth. I loved her, so much. But, that chapter closed.
I come from a family who would grant my every wish, within reason. I have none. They offer up money for anything I need. I have few wants. I can’t even name anything that would improve my situation without an avalanche of anxiety crashing heavily upon me.
Why do I fear criticism and judgment from others more than death itself? This continues to plague my every step. So what if I’m not interesting, cool, fun, successful, inspiring, etc (the list could go on)?
I look around me and every one I hold close to me exhibit all of those things and more. I worship at their altar. I admire them with such genuine sincerity. They fill me with so much joy just through proximity. All I want is to return the favor. But, all I can see is the drain I am on their emotional health, the toll I take on them. Watching someone you care about suffer can cripple you. I know this. I’ve lived it, too.
I want to free them of that burden. I want to improve. I want to love myself enough to crawl out of this endless abyss.
I fear I am unworthy and incurable.
Prove me wrong.
Soon I’ll be starting from scratch again. This time is different. My breakup last year threw my entire life & future into a incinerator. Chopped everything up into unrecognizable pieces of what was and what could have been. No, this time is less outwardly traumatic, but almost just as internally destructive.
I will once again resume this seemingly eternal search for a psychiatrist that suits me and my specific set of needs. And I assure you that I am a closeted case of needy. This is not the first, nor second or even third time I’ve jumped on and off this rickety old merry-go-round. I’ve been shuttled from doctor to doctor many times throughout this forced exploration of self-discovery. I’ve been a willing participant for most of it, but not an enthusiastic one. This process is draining. The soul-searching proves to be soul-sucking as an unintended (I hope) side effect.
I don’t know if it’s supposed to be this hard. I never really know. Everyone tells me that the trajectory of my life has been an unfortunate one. I am the Ryan Leaf of my little world. I qualified for government assistance based on the degree of NOT OKAY I’ve been gifted. COOL STORY, BRO. (I can hear it now)
At any rate, all of these checkpoints that I’ve hit, these missions I’ve endured, all supposedly have an end game. That ‘A-HA!’ moment we’re all searching tirelessly for. You trudge through the trenches, tend to your wounds, suture the scars & finally can limp off the battlefield. That’s the plan, or so they say.
I’m reminded that with time and patience, eventually, as a joint-unit we will come across a key, some magical multi-tool that will unlock those myriad barricaded doors. That complex labyrinth conjured up by my self-sabotaging brain, hellish in nature, indefatigably relentless in strength, will crumble and crash after a certain number of these timed torture sessions. These simulated lobotomies are all pre-arranged and mutual. I’m paying THEM to drill blindly into the gray matter using their metaphorical corkscrew, hoping they mash together meaning from the pulsating pulp. It’s all pseudo-science to me, might as well hark back to the practices of Ancient Romans, rip my entrails out on to the feng-sued table before me and soothesay the shit out of me. Actually, I’ve been single long enough that any kind of human touch, sounds awesome, but that’s for a different day, BBs!
We’ve evolved too much, methinks. Or perhaps a dysfunction to my degree, coupled with being queer af, is just a way to weed myself out of the species all together. I either stamp out my existence on my own terms or at the very least won’t guiltily pass on these self-cannibalizing traits to the next generation. Despite that being a future I’ve accepted, it’s brutal to type out. I’m better off childless and dead than I am as a propagator of the human race.
Yet, those are not even the issues I need to sort through with a doctor. I don’t care about my sexuality. I love women. I love being gay. That is something that makes sense and fits me fine. I’m not religious. I never have been. I questioned the existence of God the first time I read Genesis. I didn’t buy into it then it and suspension of disbelief has never been my strong suit. I will question, poke and prod at flimsy theories, debunk as many half-truths as I can before blindly accepting your “fact” as an actuality. I’m curious. And none of these Sunday school teachers could sate my thirst for more proof. So, I gave up trying. I moved on. I have no qualms with my lack of faith. That’s also extremely on-brand for me.
I don’t sit and ponder “why me?” Not often. It has crossed my mind, but what’s the point? That ship has sailed. For as long as I can remember, I was overly anxious and petrified of critiques. The blow never softened. You couldn’t sugar coat it enough to prevent the tears from flowing. The evolution from able to pass as somewhat put together to the outright personification of a malfunction was unhurried. I kept the seams taut at the edge of my gut for as long as I could muster. Believe me, I had help. I had my parents. And they had their reputation and sanity in tact. When left alone for any period of time, I quickly melt into a puddle of missed opportunity and disappointment. I hoped no one would notice me casually slithering into the nearest sewer.
I recently realized that had it not been for my family lifting up my lifeless form, time and time again, literally pushing my reanimated carcass out the door every morning I would have never even graduated high school. Every goal I reached was their doing. Sure, I put the work in. I had a natural gift for learning and athletics. But, it wasn’t my dream I was fulfilling. It was theirs. I just wanted to disappear. I still do, but not always. That part is new. That part is why I’m writing this.
For the first time in a decade, I’ve finally stopped starving myself. This cannot and should not be interpreted as some sort of full-fledged recovery. I do not want it to be viewed as such. And that is a problem that I have to continue to iterate. It’s not. I have no understanding of how to eat as a normal adult. All I had to do was give up on my size OOs and say “FUCK IT.” That’s all. Ha. This was purely and simple an admission of defeat. I had to forgo my sense of identity as a tiny waif of a human and learn to inhabit the skin of someone “average”. I almost never brag about myself, but I really have been quite brave throughout this process. It has devastated me, but I refused to allow that to put a literal nail in my coffin. I have no partner. I have no one I’m interested in impressing. I just had to alter course or I had no chance of ever escaping whatever realm of Hell I’m currently stuck in. Even at my thinnest weight, 78 pounds at 5’5″, I showered with the lights off. I couldn’t address my own reflection in the mirror. I have conquered that. That’s so insane to believe, but I have. I had to accept reality. There was no other way. I’m more willing to strip down for someone now than I ever was before–even with my ex. Am I happy with what I see? I am not. But, at least I’m choosing to live in the real world, kind of.
I’ve reached a weight restoration (and then some) point, but I’m so far from any type of a true happy ending. My current pattern is to wait until the sun goes down to start shoving whatever I crave into my face. It’s called BINGEING. And it’s something that I’ve always done, off and on. Previously, I would counteract the damage with a forced period of starvation or only fill my body with calorically light items. Shocking that my black and white interpretation of the world would extend to my inability to ration out my food supply like even a child is capable of doing. Listening to hunger cues? What the fuck is that, even? Nah. I was the kid with the activity level, genes and metabolism rate to not worry if I ate the whole block of Velveeta with a couple bags of chips on the side. It didn’t matter. I still fretted over it. I still hated myself for it, but the flogging was only internally mutilative. The scars adorning my arms, neck, back and legs? Never because of my issues with food, surprisingly. Maybe I’ll talk about that next time.
The food obsession might never go away at this point. It’s possible that I’ll never reach that moment where it all finally makes sense. Right now, I’m allowing all of these inconsistencies and slip-ups because I know that I have an addictive personality. I don’t want to segue from one unhealthy lifestyle to another. You know the type… I suddenly find my conscience underneath these flab rolls and opt to become vegan out of this newly discovered love for animals. Bullshit. Those are the ones who hide their issues under a guise of holiness. They believe, and accurately, that they can escape scrutiny if their altered eating plan is stamped with a label of approval by the NIH or the FDA. “But look how big this salad of kale and cucumber w/ just the dressing from God’s love to season it with” is not fooling me. Nor is your bloody bandaged devotion to some exercise regiment. I’m not ragging on those people. All of this is hard. It’s so hard. Our brain wants to fight recovery at every turn. It’s not inaccurate to say that the chemistry changes when in a state of deprivation for a certain epoch. That’s why their are so many shared patterns and seemingly bizarre similarities between patients suffering from an eating disorder, particularly anorexia. Cooking for other people, watching the Food Network, being able to exercise for longer periods on fewer calories, not feeling the repercussions of those workouts… it’s all a commonality. Honestly, it all sucks. It’s a lifelong issue for many, probably more than we realize. And unlike other addictions, we can’t just give up food. It’s essential to living and also what prevents us from truly doing so in the process. Whomp whomp, merry christmas.
A fun thing anorexia does to you is prohibits your ability to accurately distinguish between punishment and reward. Your penchant for receiving or seeking out pleasure diminishes. It can’t be used as a prize for accomplishing a goal. You view yourself as flawed or unworthy. Your sensitivity to criticism increases exponentially. Anxiety is your crutch. Panic is your comfort. Delusion is your guide.
And they don’t know if these are caused by anorexia or if people with those inclinations are more prone to develop the disorder. I can tell you that I’ve always had those issues apart from the anorexia ever since memories started sticking. I’ve always been a perfectionist, who if incapable of obtaining the gold, would pull away and give up completely. We have video evidence of this in action: my realizing I was being filmed trying to do a gymnastics routine and then shrieking hysterically when I messed up. pleading for them to switch the camera off. anger by way of perceived failure and subsequent humiliation. I was about six. Many such instances. Playing basketball in the driveway, alone and missing too many shots= a thrown ball, a punched wall, so much disappointment in my incapability of surpassing unrealistic expectations. My last semester at school, how I dropped out was by knowing I was going to fail my final and opting to just walk out of it. I hadn’t prepared. I was overwhelmed with life. All of my mental issues reached their apex simultaneously in this epic example of self-implosion. My attention issues led to consistent disorganization. My spirals had fewer notes and more drawings of punk rock cartoons and calorie counts of the tuna and green apples I ate that day. I’d miss weeks at a time because my skin was broken out or I overate and felt hideous. Sometimes, I’d make the 8 mile drive to campus, park, stare out the window, hands white-knuckled around the steering wheel… and then I’d just start the car and leave. Occasionally I’d go to the movie theater, where I’d buy one ticket and spend all day watching film after film. A few times, I’d walk across the street to the shopping center with a Barnes and Noble & Best Buy and camp out there for hours on end. Sometimes I’d walk laps around the campus just to burn the zero calories I ate that day. Depending on my current eating state: I’d either want to avoid going home where I was tempted by food or I’d immediately lock myself in my room with boxes of cereal to tear through. Depending on my current physical state, I’d either go to the local high school and run stairs RIGHT AFTER these binges or I’d buy an OTC emetic that induced vomiting… turning the music up, lying on the floor of my bathroom, sobbing… until I could feel contractions in my stomach. I was always alone. I had friends who eventually left me because of how often I’d cancel plans. And really, who wants to go to dinner with the girl who sits and watches you eat with no plate of her own? I never asked, but I just extricated myself from the equation altogether. I never recovered those friendships. I never tried. I felt I deserved the ostracization. . What horror did I not deserve? I appeared selfish. I would call in for work. I would not go to family functions. I dropped out of school and used the tuition money to go across the Atlantic ocean to follow a band around Europe. I risked everything to escape reality. But, it kept following me…. no wonder I related to “it follows…” so much.
We’re remodeling our kitchen right now, and all the cabinets had to be ripped out. I asked my mom to let me know if they found any hidden shot glasses, flasks or bottles of Taaka anywhere. Not to consume. Just to laugh about the lengths I’d go to for liquor. They didn’t. But, they did find 3 empty boxes of (now) discontinued cereal. Hidden evidence from the past of a binge I wanted to go unnoticed. I freely own up to this type of behavior now, at 31. I hide nothing. I’m an open book because I want to get better. I think. Some days.
It’s just a lot. I’m a lot. It’s all just so much and all at once. I chip away at something and another issue will manifest as a different enemy to combat, some darker and more sinister than the ones I previously slayed. I went from anorexia to alcoholism and from alcoholism to anorexia. Right now I’m addiction-free. Coincidentally, I’m also passionless. I’m dreamless. I’m a blank slate, an empty shell, a cellular entity suspended in animation. I’m aging, but I’m not advancing. Or maybe I am. I can’t even tell anymore.
Sometimes I can see off in the distance, eyes aglow with the promise of the green light across the water. Maybe it is all just a fantasy: recovery, health, happiness, but it’s one that I sincerely want to give a shot at obtaining. I’ve been trying. None of what I say is hyperbolic in nature. I have no reason to exaggerate. I’m not writing a memoir. I’m not trying to sell you on the severity of the obstacles I’ve endured; none of them forced upon by external factors, all manifested within. I can’t overstate that fact enough.
I’d chug a bottle of vodka to let me breathe without the weight of the world pressing down upon my chest, my shoulders fatigued from years of holding so much guilt upon them. Guilt from leaving so many loved one’s dreams for me left unfulfilled… their ellipses now a point, a period on the timeline. Their disappointment has always been the crowning jewel of my shame spiral. I have no stake in myself. I can curate no pride from within. I am nothing if not someone’s everything. And I haven’t even been particularly good at that, since all these maladies make everything murkier and more difficult to sift through. If I’m starving I can’t be sharp. If I’m in my head, I can’t give you my heart. If I’m too worried about the result, I’ll never participate in the now. My fear will always prevent me from falling, but the failure truly stems from never trying at all. Lessons learned, all the hard way.
I’m a chainsaw rigged to maneuver in a circle. I’m a dog chasing its tail. I’m too dizzy to escape, too disorientated to pick a direction in which to head. So, I shrink. I incubate. I take a Benadryl and Melatonin with a belly full of food, crawl under the covers, curl into a ball and cower away… each and every night. Nothing stronger so I won’t have to undergo another stint of self-prescribed rehab. I can’t spend my entire “life” clawing out of another hole I dug. I have to give myself a chance. So, I drift off to the sounds of familiarity lulling me into a dream I hope to never wake up from… 30 Rock on repeat, every night. Almost zero exception. It’s my security at this point. It’s not only comforting, but it helps me hone in on how to make people laugh. I’ve always had a great sense of humor. I’m quick-witted, but I’ve always kept my jokes and one-liners to myself because of ineffective communication skills. I can’t handle the pressure. I balk at being granted the spotlight. I second guess that which CANNOT be second guessed. I learn timing, facial expressions, and really do attempt to learn confidence from mirroring these comedic geniuses. Maybe it can’t be taught, but I just have to learn how to “people” again after being so alone for so long. If I’m lucky, if my muscles allow, I’ll stay in my cave until the late afternoon.
At the end of the day, I just want to be liked. Not because it feels good, but because I know what it feels like to be 100 percent enamored with another. It makes the days worth enduring. It gives every action a sense of purpose. It keeps me wanting to improve, grow and achieve. I cannot produce that flame of willful desire without another to spark and ignite it. I unashamedly live for others. But, I want to be worth it. I thought, in my past relationship, that if I was pretty enough, then maybe that would be enough reason to stay. If I could just be skinny, then all the other issues would fall by the wayside. It’s not that I believed her to be shallow (she wasn’t) or unintelligent (she wasn’t), but that’s what the broken mind wanted to believe. I could control that. I could make my weight plummet. It did. I did.
Guess what? She still left me.
Now I have a mind that can think straight. I am not a zombie going through the motions. I am fully aware. When awake, I am on high alert. I notice all. My intake receptors are finely tuned after a long period of dormant hibernation. I’m ready to seek help. But, where do I even start? I’ve been told on many occasions that I was too much to take. Not just by friends, but by doctors and therapists. No one is qualified to deal with me. I’m smart and I’m strong-willed. I can pinpoint my issues, mostly. And I can try to conceal or tame them when needed, but I’m a master manipulator. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING I CHOOSE TO DO. It happens without even trying. I catch myself now and can redirect intent. Yet, it is always attempting to infiltrate every proactive step forward. I THINK it’s a self-preservation technique to keep my feelings from getting hurt. A defense. A shield. Unfortunately, by nature, I’m an extremely nice person. I have a desire to please. I have a desire to take away everyone’s pain and suffering. I want to be the fixture that brightens. I want to openly love. That’s who I am. That’s how I think. But, this fucking piece of shit disorder wants me to use sarcasm to cover up anything saccharine or sincere. It wants me to be caustic and cunning when I want to be courteous & complimentary. It’s always afraid I’ll be rejected or misconstrued, that I’ll say the wrong thing or it won’t be received the way I imagined. I insult instead of encourage. Fortunately, I’ve been gifted with a smile that lifts even when the words don’t quite match up. I am TYPICALLY perceived correctly though it takes time to decipher and interpret my quirks and eccentricities. I truly believe that my family is JUST NOW starting to “get me.” I’m a cryptic puzzle and until you figure me out, I’m the white-airhead mystery flavor. And I believe that I’m not worth the time it takes to investigate. I’m not rich. I’m not employed. I have no possessions. I have no future, but a truly fucked up past. I’m not hot. I’m not special. I’m just me. And that’s super meh. Although, I am the perfect amount of snuggly and independent. I’m very cat-like in this way.
Right now, I am not enough of a reason to want to keep going. With any of it. With sobriety. With recovery. With existing. But, I haven’t given up because I still have options to try.
I thought life was over a year ago today, when I realized my girlfriend was no longer my girlfriend And it was…the life I had envisioned was stolen from me. I had it all planned out, our future, together. Always together. I could picture us white-haired, holding gnarled brittle hands, stronger together– still making each other laugh at how dumb everything is. This was the first time I was ever able to see a version of me beyond youth. I assumed I’d be dead before middle age. I’m back to facing that at the axis of the horizon.
But, I can say that I have been able to heal. The emotional hemophilia, that which I thought would never cease to hemorrhage, cauterized and coagulated. I didn’t bleed out, when I was so very sure I would. Do I still bring her up when relaying an anecdote? sure. Do I have to push away memories, conversations, and her intense betrayal? YUP. I think I’m stuffing down all of that for another time. Those are normal things that everyone deals with post-breakup., angrily smashing mementos into a box and setting it aflame. Well, I’ve just opted out of the burning effigy, for now. Sometimes our shared past can comfort, even still. She’s a seriously flawed person, who still cannot see the error of her ways, but who I would do anything for. Even now. Why? Because she’s a special individual, who saved me time and time again. You don’t stop loving someone because they fucked up.
See, look at that? I say it and yet I don’t believe it about myself. That’s the distorted carnival mirror nonsensical element that I want to escape. Get me out of this fun house, thank you, please.
This resiliency is killing me, except it’s not.
I’ve self-harmed with such intensity and reckless disregard that I’m riddled with scars. The kind that won’t heal up nice and pretty-like with some Mederma. The kind I have to explain. The kind that are a huge turn-off. The kind that needed stitching. The kind that left nerve damage. The kind that could have, should have killed me, if my partner hadn’t had a rudiment set of army medic skills in her back pocket. Such a clever cat, she was.
They didn’t leave me dead, but they did lead to a psychiatric ward in Austin. It left me handcuffed, in the back of a cop car, silently accepting my transport to an institution. It led to years of drinking heavily to avoid dealing with problems, so deeply embedded within my core. Inextricable. I’ve been to an overnight detox clinic. I’ve been handcuffed, again, for being a suicidal threat and taken to the ER because my blood alcohol level was at .40 (and I was still not even close to my black out point). I’ve been through the DTs at least ten times. I started seizing, despite not being epileptic, during each withdrawal. My hallucinations, while never visual, were somehow worse since I was acutely aware they were happening, yet couldn’t shut them off. All auditory. Usually music, sometimes sports broadcasting, often old-timey and patriotic. “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee-Gees was the first one I heard. On repeat. I tried to leave the apartment to go running (anorexic mindset), to see if I could outpace it. I couldn’t. I thought I was going to die. I got lost. I was crying. It was truly terrifying. I vowed to never drink again. I did.
One morning I woke up with what I thought was sleep in my eyes, that filmy haze that sometimes you can rub or blink off in a few moments, only it didn’t go away, not then, and not since. It’s a permanent vision loss called nutritional optic neuropathy. Guess what causes it? drinking cheap liquor in excess and a malnourished diet… I was an anorexic alcoholic who stopped taking vitamins because of the 15 calories each had.
I’ll always have a blurred central focal vision. Always. It’s tolerable, but I think it can be a burden. I remember my ex, a few weeks before leaving, used it to hurt me by getting upset that I needed her to drive me to my parents house, ten minutes away. I had no car, at the time. And, I was unsure if I was legal to drive (I am). Citing instances in the past where I hadn’t wanted to go somewhere with her because I wasn’t feeling up to it. It wasn’t something I could fix or change. It just was. So, I KNOW it gets frustrating when people try to show me something and I can’t make it out or when I have to have help reading text. I either have to sit super close to the television for subtitles or have them orated. Yes, it’s annoying for me, too.
At any rate, I’ve dealt with all of these things and have come out on the other side. Some part of me must want to keep trying. So, I am. And so I will continue to, until I just can’t handle another moment of torment. I get close. I haven’t in months. I had a plan at one point in 2017. But, I didn’t follow through. I got a couple of new scars. That’s it. That’s a victory.
Small things keep giving me hope. I struggled so mightily with putting the weight back on while simultaneously going through these dermatological regimens that led to my lowest point of self-esteem, ever. In order to compensate for my ghastly appearance, I would wear hoodies and avoid eye contact (more than usual), but UPPED the social quotient regardless of the insecurities. I would be MORE outgoing, MORE engaging, MORE lively with everyone I encountered. I ignored what I knew I looked like and hoped to make a connection that would diffuse the awkwardness of having to talk to the fucking Elephant man. It has been a rough year.
One of the gifts of vision loss is that I can no longer make out faces in a crowd (this is also a detriment when trying to find my crew in the supermarket, but I digress), so I cannot tell if people are staring at me or judging me in any way. I can remain oblivious to their scrutiny. I can pretend they’re not there. If I overthink it, I’ll remember that I know that they are… I mean, I’m a lesbian with short bleached hair and blue streaks, who dresses like a boy in a super conservative Texas town. I overthought it for a second last night at my niece’s church play, and I mistakenly zoned in on a select few’s faces, and yeah, that familiar look of confusion and mild disgust was there. But, I kept being myself. I wasn’t glued 2-dimensionally to the back wall. I was spinning in circles alongside my toddler niece. I didn’t let it dictate my next move. That was huge.
This evening, when at my sister’s house, she handed me something to give to my mom. My bitch-ass instinct was to scoff and be all “Why didn’t you just give it to her yourself?” … and then I stood frozen in my tracks, mid-sentence, turned and said to her: “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that. I don’t care if you gave this to her or me.”
And I Just walked away, stunned at why I do these things. My intent is so frequently the opposite of what ends up taking place, that whole childlike mentality of “I’m going to kick you, ’cause i like you.” This leads to many, many (x9812) nights of ceiling-gazing, cringing at every misstep you made at that one party 9 years ago. I’m going to start correcting myself immediately. Break that habit.
Once again, I’m trying.
A cool new thing that transpired in recent weeks is that super weird sensation of developing a crush on someone. The idea of this ever happening to me again has repulsed me as recently as a few months ago. I truly did give everything I had to my ex. It wasn’t enough, in the end, but it was all I had at the time. No one’s fault. Regardless, I didn’t think I could ever feel amorous in any way towards anyone. I’ve flirted, very casually and with absolutely no intent of following through, on certain occasions where I’ve encountered someone interesting. I mainly just wanted to gauge reactions. I wanted to make someone feel good about themselves without being creepy or too suggestive. If it had been reciprocated (and I didn’t frame it as an invite), then I would have just ghosted tf out of them. Sorry. I’m awful, because of broken brain syndrome.
But, this last time was different. I should iterate that this is a very safe infatuation to have because it’s completely unobtainable. It will never be anything other than what it stands as of now. Not only is this girl straight, but also so far out of my league and into another orbit that even if she weren’t, I would never have had a chance. Also, geographically super far away. I tend to get these type of crushes on those with talents that I wish I had or that far out perform my own. Talent crushes have always usurped the physical, for me. I have no interest in supermodels. Although, this particular girl is also really really good-looking. But, truly, I don’t give a shit about what someone looks like in a swimsuit. I don’t care about what type of show they put on. Sure, that’s great and good for you, but if they don’t intrigue, inspire or leave me with more questions than answers–then, I’m not ever going to care enough to blink an eye. I am no treasure, but I always find myself attracted to those that are and don’t quite realize it. I like those who are complicated. I like those who use humor to deflect. I like it when you can see in someone’s eyes a universe worth exploring… intelligence, a curiosity, a fire, an element of imperfection that allows them to see the world through a unique perspective. A kindness that someone like me has to seek out to avoid getting destroyed.
It’s rare for me to ever be allowed that kind of access through rotating doors or casual pass-throughs. It’s never going to happen at a bar or over dinner. It takes awhile for most to slough off their protective gear and allow their vulnerabilities to show through. Not me. I’m obviously up front and immediate in my presentation. If I display my burdens then I can’t have them be used against me, or so I hope. It’s why I stopped wearing makeup, most of the time. I used to never go to bed without it on if with another girl. I’d never let them see me unmasked. Afraid to disappoint. I’d be peer pressured into doing anything the other wanted, which as you can imagine has taken me down a glittery colorful path because I never went for safe. Safe is boring. Risks can be fun. But, of course, eventually the ruse would be over, the curtain would lift and I’d be left standing their, fully exposed. Nothing lasts forever. Now I am very much a take me as I am and hope you can make me into something beautiful.
So, unexpectedly, a cool chick on the internet posted funny clever things on twitter and I started following her. Then, I saw she had an Instagram. She would post funny clever videos on there, so, I started following her there, too. Man, the term “following” sounds as invasive as it probably should. Then, I realized she had certain similarities in struggles as myself. And then the worst/best part is that started caring about what she said or thought. That’s when I realized that not only is this a dumb problem to have, but also kind of a great sign. It meant I was finally ready to put the past where it belonged. Bury it. It’s the most optimistic thing that I’ve encountered in many months, if not years. Not only is it just a fun feeling to have, but it’s a sign that I can imagine a future again. That there is a reason for tomorrow. That there is a goal to work towards. That all is not lost. A reminder that I have a heart that still has little gushes of ridiculousness to give away.
Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. EVEN if it was always a fantasy, it’s one that provides hope. And hope is all we need, sometimes. So, here I am, willing to step foot into a psychiatrist’s office once again. Fuck.
Sobriety killed my relationship. There it is. Avert your eyes, you Puritans, but there’s no contesting this fact. There’s no tip-toeing around it. There’s no obfuscation that can mask it in some well meaning, yet woefully misguided, attempt to present it as something any less unsavory or dispiriting (ha!) than it is. Sometimes, no, oft times, the realities that we clutch close to our chest are greased thick with grime, caked with a coating of raw sewage. This a stark contrast to that which we wish to sell to ourselves and as an extension, to others around us. We want to salvage and preserve our images with a filtered watered-down version of the truth. We carefully hand select our finest-tipped paint brush and attempt to conceal with precision–electing to serve a glossed and gleamed over finished product. But, who are we kidding?
I’m done pretending. I’m done because at this point I’m not upset about it. I’m not ashamed. I’m at peace with the entire epoch. In fact, it’s almost satisfying to get a strong grip on facts and contexts. I’m able to sit back and objectively analyze the tenets and integrity of my former relationship. From my current vantage point, I can extricate myself from the tangled web of emotional elements and with a clear mind and metronome- steady heart, graph out our timeline: from the early seismic tremors, to the subsequent crumbling, cracking, erosion and and eventual implosion of the structural foundation in its entirety. The book end to a romance that was, for the most part, anything but.
I entered into it as an alcoholic with an alcoholic. A dream duo of dysfunction and delusion. Perfectly synchronized in our self-diagnosis of “crazy and in need of a drink.” We were our own worst enemy until we found each other. Our worlds collided and our vices colluded–our sloppy, sloshy solidarity instantly granting us the illusion of normalcy that we so desperately craved. It was in this state of blitzed bliss that we managed to exist merrily (and chaotically, dangerously, recklessly) for years. Here, in our seemingly eternal haze of inebriation, we lived in chunks of time defined by night and day, light and dark. We hit reset every morning, electing to remember solely the good times from the previous evening–the ones peppered with laughter and mirth–the ones giving us the warm fuzzies, the staying up late, the spontaneity, the careless disregard for societal rules and norms, the hot unhindered, untethered and unpredictable sex, the snark and sarcastic wit that emerged with a few too many down the gullet… the shared memories of careening towards a black-out together. We blocked out the blurry and bleary battles, hid the spilled and broken bottles, skipped over the alcohol-fueled arguments that sometimes got too handsy and hurtful, swerved around the emotional roller coasters that led to holes in the wall, broken furniture, neglected animals, medical bills, humiliation,self-inflicted wounds…mars and scars a plenty. It was messy, beautiful, dramatic, theatric, bombastic and gloriously chaotic…. at times truly Shakespearean.
Then we got sober… at different times…and things changed.
We grew apart because under normal circumstances we would have never been close together to begin with–proximity wise, maturity wise, personality wise, goal wise, etc. Alcohol was our binding agent. We drank together. We meshed beautifully when an IV was firmly inserted into our veins, poison pulsating throughout, with notes of pinot and bottom shelf wood varnish….errr…Taaka vodka to sate the palate and obscure our harsh realities with an even harsher aftertaste. We then became equals. Everything else dissipated in a dizzying fashion the more we drank. Nothing else mattered except our shared desire to drown our disorders out with a neutralizing agent. We felt normal in our abnormality. We continued this way for far too long. Years, literal years of our respective lives.
But, here’s the interesting part…the humanizing element to all of this… throughout it all, we forged a bond that WAS real. The love was real. The degree to which I cared for her was immeasurably deep. All was true. All was legitimate. But, so much of the passion, the desire, that magical spark that serves as the backbone of any long-lasting romantic relationship dried up when the alcohol drip switched off. That love, no matter how pure, profound and substantial, on its own, could be enough to keep us afloat in the absence of all the other myriad qualities and traits that make and shape a quality partnership.
With sobriety came the reemergence of our former selves, of the personalities, peccadilloes and peculiarities that we had sought to outpace and evade in the past through our drunken marathons. We suddenly had to face that which we hoped to never encounter again. That was scary. It was scary then and it continues to be scary now. Essential? Sure. But, a horrifying prospect to come to terms with on the daily. We had to exit the safety of the cave we had holed ourselves up in for the better part of our twenties. The light on the outside was blinding. We were disoriented. We were not adjusted. We were not ready, but who ever is? We stare into the mirror and that reflection we see proves not only to be more wrinkled and aged than we last remember, but unrecognizable on a psychological level as well. There is a lot of anger and resentment boiling right below the surface. And in the months that follow that last sip of scourge of self-loathing is A LOT of introspection and reflection…it actually becomes rather all consuming and inescapable. There is a struggle to accept the wasted time. There is a lot of internal interrogation, a lot of meekly verbalized “Who Am I’s?” Months of this existential questioning and re-discovering follow that last swig of Svedka. It is grueling. It is disheartening, discouraging and disparaging. The days seem long. The nights are longer. All of your troubles and issues metastasize, eventually seeping into and out of every area of your life. Nothing and no one is spared. You start to doubt that any of this was even worth it. That little puckish voice you naively thought you had successfully squandered, re-manifest itself within your ear- whispering sweet nothings, purring and cajoling, pulling and tugging at your increasingly weak resolve. But, you now have control. You have power. You escaped the clutches of a life fueled by liquor… liberated yourself from the libations. You realize you have strength. You recognize your individual worth. And then the brick wall… you look around and grasp that even though you have had someone offering support beside you throughout the entire arduous process- you ultimately did this on your own. You did it. You.
And at this point, you finally get a chance to observe and analyze the situation you now find yourself immersed in. Once you are able to slough off the muck, wipe the crust from the corners of your eyes, shake off the slumber and reorient yourself with the rest of the world– you might come to the realization that you’ve emerged from your cocoon as a changed entity. Post-chrysalis, your wings still wet and folded, you can only focus on yourself and your personal wants, needs and desires. At this juncture you can’t go back to who you were before because you are literally just not the same. And you never will be. That’s ok. That’s good. But, the effect and probable strife that this will have on you and your significant other’s shared relationship is significant and likely insurmountable. It’s no one’s fault. But, it is a harsh, unpredictable and unforeseen post-script to your sobriety saga. All the differences you had previously managed to ignore, overlook or avoid become all that you can focus on. The jarring discrepancies, the varied tastes, the disparate dreams, the dissonance and discord, the utter lack of any commonalities or congruence in communication. Everything becomes magnified. You try to force it for awhile. You want so badly for this story to have a happy ending. You want this to work. You overcame so much. Don’t fail now.
Because, like I previously stated, you grew to love and care for this other person on a level you never thought possible. You would give your life for them, to them, with no hesitation or questions asked. You glean great comfort from their presence. You miss them when they’re away. You spend the bulk of your time worrying about their well-being, wondering what they’re thinking or feeling, and working to make sure they know they are appreciated and important. But, as the days wear on, with your mind and body growing sharper and more aware with each sunrise, you recognize that it’s just not enough. It will never again be enough. Something is missing. You feel lonely, despite never being truly alone. You feel misunderstood despite the other party knowing every intimate detail of your existence and being. You feel ignored despite every word being heard and digested. And you feel trapped despite being offered every bit of freedom you could possibly hope for.
And there we were. We were shells of what we once were as a couple. The fun was gone. The spark and sparkle dulled and turned into ash. We were set in our routines. We could have continued on in this manner indefinitely. We could have. I would have. I’m not afraid of comfort. I embrace monotony, tedium and a repetitive unvaried pattern of existence. I was content. The fundamentals were all in place, the basic boxes ticked off: the love, the affection, the respect, the shared experiences, the compassion. The absence of the fire and flames? I could tolerate. She could not. And that is okay. As it stands now…. she freed us both. I should thank her.
It hurts. It hurt then…it hurts now. Yes, it still stings. But, not as much as the acrid aftertaste of a stale lukewarm shot of vodka at 7 in the morning to combat an oncoming hangover from a week-long bender. And the truth is that at two months into my post-breakup life, the pain has dissipated and has been replaced by a semblance of relief. No regret. No yearning to turn back time and Butterfly Effect this entire situation. Nope. None of that. I now can clearly see this as an opportunity to move forward, to reestablish a friendship with her at some point, and in the process forge a stronger sense of identify for myself. I want to answer that rhetorical question of “Who am I?” with a definitive. I need to know ME in order to know what I want out of life and eventually… in a future partner and enduring relationship.
It’s all for the best.
I mean at the end there… I viewed drinking again as the only way to save my relationship. That’s when you know you’ve taken it as far as you can. That’s when you know that it’s time to move on. I could not accept it then. But, I accept it now.
But, yes…. sobriety killed my relationship. And we knew it might. We knew it was a risk. Yet, for our own personal betterment, we still took that chance. We bit the bullet. We pulled up our big-girl britches and powered through the sobering up process as gracefully and with as much dignity in tact as we could muster. In the end, we failed as a couple. BUT, we succeeded at obtaining control over our own disease.
And that is something.
So, such is life. Win some, lose some. Gain knowledge and grow as a person in the process. I haven’t seen her since the split, but I think we both can attest that we have and continue to do so.
This was written as a response to a recent article I read: Secret to a happy marriage? Maybe drinking alcohol, study says
Alas, I can Absolut-ely see how this study bubbled up into existence. It makes life fun, but there always needs to be more below the surface. My next relationship, if I ever get to that point, will be a sober one (for me) and i will put on zero airs nor attempt to mask who I really am. Honesty all the way!
Everyone wants to be viewed as having it all together. We see this phenomenon played out daily–perhaps most glaringly via social media outlets like instagram, pinterest or facebook. An image of perfection is presented to us–broadcast over the world wide web in bite-sized portions meant to be devoured and lapped up by all the wanting minds desiring to be the best, the most accomplished, the most adored… those desperate to reach the apex of their daily existence… judging themselves against an image, project or posting where every element of what is offered up is edited, manipulated, staged and “filtered.” Yes, it’s a term given to a lens that masks and mars and distorts reality–but, it’s not just limited to an iphone app. We are taught that if we don’t appear, at least superficially, to be buttoned-up, with our backs straight, smiles plastered and posed just so, Stepford-ized to the max…than we’re not truly succeeding in this life. Somewhere… we have failed, fallen and faltered. The appearance of happiness is the standard by which we think we are all being evaluated and compared. And to an extend it’s very true. If we do all the steps society deems appropriate– get a degree, find a career, find a partner, get married, buy a house, have a family, work ourselves towards an early grave, retire, etc. then we should be happy, right? Most of us know that that’s not how it works, but people still fall into that trap. It’s still ingrained in our DNA. It’s in our core.
I have witnessed the behind the scenes world of w hat goes into those supposed slices of suburban utopia–behind those adorable family photographs that get touted as “just another day”-the tantrums, the fighting, the crying, the many attempts at getting just the right “candid”– all in this tragic attempt to capture what we are conditioned to THINK is this perfectly untroubled group of humans living harmoniously with a unified goal–a paragon of happiness… . Rockwellian. I look at people trying so desperately to convince others… and probably even themselves..that they are the most content folks on earth… and I get sad for them. They’re so busy searching for this elusive concept of what it means to be happy–something they are taught from early on that if they fail to achieve it through traditional routes then they are a letdown to themselves and their families–that they’re doomed to be absent for the present… never aware of the moment enough to know if they ever actually experience it. They probably don’t even know what it actually feels like to be unencumbered and free of the stress of searching for happiness and truly living it.
Of course, it is all very subjective. I am not naive enough to think that I’m ever going to obtain this state of perpetual bliss. . I’m not going to wake up one morning after a fitful night of sleep to a world where I’m sunbathing in the sublime from dusk til dawn. My brain is never going to accept calm, peace, and complacency. It’s always going to be on high alert– scanning the horizon for the “What ifs” and “what could bes”…. and it’s never going to allow me to rest comfortably in contentment for too long. I’m going to spend the duration of my life glancing over my shoulder after every couple of tentatively taken steps–ready for the boogeyman to finally catch up and sedate my blissfulness. That’s okay though. Unlike so many of my friends and family, I have no shame admitting that happiness is, more or less, an illusion. I do not fear failure because I have been swimming, or more accurately, drowning in it for over a decade. I’ve had time to sit back and reformulate what I want out of life. And what it means for me to be happy.
My personal pursuit of that is all that matters. I know that it may never be a constant, but it is something I can search for and discover in minutes or moments…seconds or segments. I have discovered that in distancing myself from that “American-dream” oriented type of success-associated happiness–that I am able to obtain something that I deem its equivalent in doses scattered throughout the day. I glean happiness from seeing my partner, my parents, my nieces, or my sister smile. My heart nearly explodes the moment that my eyes catch theirs in that particular euphoric state–shining and twinkling as bright as the nearest galaxy–when their laughter can no longer be muffled. When that unbridled optimism emanates from within them and they unknowingly share it with the rest of us in the room… to be near it… to breathe it in… that is happiness. I feel that internal cheer-o-meter rise significantly when I am around to listen to them recount anecdotes from their day, to witness their successes, feel their levels of pride soar higher than I am ever capable of reaching on my own. The corners of my lips immediately curve upwards, the wrinkles around my eyes tighten, my dimple appears in my cheek, and my smile becomes impossible to hide any longer. Whenever I perform a generous act that brings cheer to those I love– I feel the familiar tingle and satisfying glee. Yeah, it’s a selfish act of selflessness. But, I know it gives me an injection of what I believe to be happiness and a sense of general contentment. I am alone enough, separated enough, isolated enough… all day… to know what power a great stimulating conversation with someone I care about can possess. Those isolated instances can and have pulled me out of those pitch black places I sometimes go to when I lose sight of all the good in my life. I think those unexpected moments are happiness. I think finding that connection is happiness.
Sometimes, I will be sitting in the dark at night, nothing but the glow of the television casting the softest glow upon Meg’s face… as she lays her head on my lap… fighting sleep as she tucks all her anxieties, worries and stressors from the day away in the back of her mind…. that look of peace and serenity on her countenance…the trust that she places in me to keep her safe… the love that emanates from within …all of that will culminate in this epiphany wherein all I can think about is how lucky I am. How… HAPPY… I am to be alive to experience that feeling… if only for a minute. How thankful I am to still be around just to have that memory etched into my mind forever…however long forever really lasts.
So, for me, happiness is real, but fleeting. And it is defined by no one other than myself. It’s insignificant in its presentation. It manifests itself in the mundane. It exists in the ordinary, but cements itself in my memory bank as something nothing short of extraordinary. I do not wake up in the morning expecting to find it. I view it as an unattainable and elusive resource. So, when I stumble over it and suddenly find myself standing amidst that rare light… in that glow we all crave but are incapable of scientifically mapping out… I bask in it. I dance. It might not be the happiness that many correlate with financial or material successes…and it may not translate well to documents or posed photographs, but it’s my own special breed of that feeling or emotion. And I quite like it. I live for it. And I’m usually fortunate enough to touch upon it every day…in some form or fashion. I just had to open my mind and lower my expectations from what I was taught that happiness means. I had to recalculate the meaning of the word. I now see the beauty in something as small as a brilliant blue sky, a warm sun, a song bird, and a breeze on my cheek. I see it as a snuggle from my dog when I’m feeling low. I see it as a word of encouragement from a friend with whom I’ve not spoken with in years. I see it as an ice cold coke that my girlfriend buys for me just because she knows it’s my favorite. Yesterday, I saw it when my mom and dad waved at me on a webcam from a ski-resort in Utah…just to make a connection with me from afar. I see it everywhere.
It’s been a weird couple of days. No need to delve into detail that eludes and evades direct and rational discussion. My thoughts are muddy and muddled and making little sense. I’m running on fumes.
However, I have had a pleasant side-effect stem from all of this. I thought about my grandma a lot throughout my relatively sleepless night and the subsequent quiet contemplative morning that followed. Her presence was jarring, but not alarming. Being startled or unsettled by this would be the wrong reaction to have–she is a constant source of security and comfort when I find myself struggling. As far as I can determine–there was no reasoning behind her resurgence into my consciousness. It’s not her birthday. It’s not yet an anniversary of her passing. It’s just another day in August. However, the meaning behind her sudden appearance from invisible and usually unnoticed hand upon my shoulder to the forefront of my psyche is irrelevant and not worth dwelling upon. These are wonderful memories to have surge and sift through! I did not shepherd her away and will always without questioning welcome any thoughts of her to my day’s happenings.
But, it got me thinking of how grandparents are perceived and how they appear to be expected to behave in this day and age. They seem to have taken on a role rife with more responsibilities and myriad commitments than they had in the past. They’re no longer solely the voices of wisdom, offering up sage advice, and providing guidance when called upon to do so. They are not utilized only in cases of emergency or as a last-minute babysitter when something unexpected arises out of the blue. They seem to now be…. substitute parents…. almost replacing them (or usurping them). They do the fun and the not-so-fun aspects of child rearing. I find this bizarre. I find it jarring. And I don’t know how I feel about it, which is completely useless information to deliver to the internet. But, here i am.
I suppose that I feel so strongly about this because of my own personal experiences growing up. I maintain that one of the best things my grandma ever did for me was to not spoil me rotten. There were never piles of presents bestowed upon me or copious amounts of sticky sweet saccharine nonsense presented on my plate. In fact, I recall so few instances where money was spent on me at all–and those times that I do remember are etched into my brain as being particularly special, poignant and note-worthy It meant something more to me because of their infrequency.
As a young whippersnapper, my cousin and I would make plans to spend a night or two together at Grandma’s. My grandpa was no longer alive and it would just be the three of us. When we were there, we would partake in these little mile-long outings together. He and I would set out on these sojourns to the closest eatery, Jack-in-the-Box, for lunch by foot or by rollerblades–while my grandma would get behind the laughably over sized ship-style steering wheel of her gigantic automobile–the precursor to the SUV–the Scout II…and meet up with us at our dining destination. Chicken fingers, curly fries and a chocolate milkshake for me… cheeseburger, fries and a soda for my cousin… and for dessert? A trip to Eckerd’s Drug Store for a small little gift to play with during our stay at 1005 Thomas Avenue. When I say “little gift”… I mean it. The prices of these prizes never amounted to more than two dollars. We were both very fond of Hot Wheels cars and Andy and I would spend our allotted aisle time inspecting every millimeter of the tiny die-cast vehicles in their bright and crisp blister packs. The decision-making process was never taken lightly and could make or break the level of enjoyment derived from our weekend shenanigans. May the best car win! Vroom Vroom! Between the two of us, we had a fairly large collection amassed. He and I would admire each other’s cache with respect rather than envy… okay maybe I was the teeniest bit jealous of his green Mercedes convertible with its pearl finish and tan interior and perhaps he ogled my red Viper with gold hubcaps more than I was comfortable with. But, for the most part–we played together wonderfully. Hours upon hours were spent building up our fictitious towns– Legos and Lincoln logs forming the foundations for our garages and numerous edifices. The bulk of the time was spent creating the canvas upon which to park and show off our vehicles. Once that step was completed– the game was essentially suspended for that session. It was all about the element of construction and one’s ability to present their proud and shiny medley of minuscule machinery with the most flash and skill. He was a master crafter who could create wonderfully engineered and meticulously orchestrated wonders….architectural delights. Sound and sturdy. Multi-tiered and aspirational. Mine were… well…more akin to giant parking lots complete with crude fencing around the perimeters and with the propensity for roofs to collapse during the earthquakes created by foot traffic… or the hurricane-like forceful gusts of my panicked labored breathing as my concentration and attention span grew exhausted.
Yet, regardless of the outcomes–fun was always had in excess. We didn’t have fancy accessories or store-purchased kits with which to embellish our creations or give our creativity a boost. My grandma had an off-white plastic bin in the “toy room” at the back of the house… filled to the brim with an assortment of cut blocks of wood. There were a wide variety of sizes, widths, and textures–all lying there eagerly awaiting the hands of two elementary aged children to reach out, grab them, and give them a purpose again– Their origin remains a mystery, but there they were–cut, smelling of aging humid timber, and ready to be brought back to life. We literally were gifted a box of wood, appreciated it, and let our imaginations run wild with it! Frequently, there would be some dead bugs wanting to join the party(usually roaches, ick!), mixed into the array of constructional materials… but, once that situation was taken care of–we were granted with endless opportunities to build up our little worlds in the manner in which we saw fit. No instructions. No guidelines. No boundaries. No limits. It was all up to us. And we thrived because of it.
The other toys available? Well, had a couple of mismatched sets of plastic Cowboys and Indians figurines in a taped together ratty old cardboard box, edges feathered and tethered, disintegrating from the frequent wear of tear of our grubby little paws. We had a chest-of-drawers with coloring and painting books stored within the confines of those cavernous cabinets– real Crayola Crayons and a plethora of paint brushes from which to choose. There were many puzzles with varying levels of difficulty, materials and subject matter. Most, if not all, of these items seem to be acquired from garage sales. There were a few archaic plastic games from yesteryear.. a vintage Tomy Strolling windup bowling game and one that used baseball cards as batters. We had an exercise bike that was questionable in regards to safety–especially when the sole goal was to see how fast you could pedal. Bruised shins and unrivaled fear were commonplace. There were many many rounds of tic-tac-toe and intense matches of Go-Fish, Battle, and Hi-Lo. There were chain link dog leashes that we would hook up to the overgrown tree-like bushes outside–attaching them to our belt loops and pretend as though we were rappelling from dangerous and rugged terrain. We played with sticks and rocks. We rode trikes and bikes in the driveway–hooking up a little homemade trailer to the hitch and hauling “lumber”. We raked the lawn. We braved the darkness, the odorous nature of chemical inhalants and fertilizer, and the inescapable insects, using nothing but flashlights and an adventurous spirit as we perused the shed in the backyard for oddities and peculiarities. During our quieter moments, we would hole ourselves up in the rickety old 1970’s era camper trailer parked in the side-yard. We’d pretend we were vacationing out in the wilderness somewhere together– he recalling upon actual memories spent doing just that– me… cobbling together my own imaginary recollections to create a new original narrative. I never did go camping with them, but I got to live out the experience by wrestling and subsequently claiming my sleeping quarters in the bunk near the ceiling (the best spot!), by opening the hatch on the roof, climbing up the ladder on the back, by eating our sandwiches, playing cards, and reading magazines at the dining booth. Only thing missing was the bugs, the boredom and using the bathroom on board. Could have fooled me– I felt I was living and experiencing it all. But, I never left the driveway.
We would ofttimes find ourselves doing little more than lounging around in the back yard with grandma beside us… she recounting stories from her past to our wanting ears… we all rocking back and forth in that wooden swing… two vastly different generations…in such synchronization and solidarity…sharing bloodlines and backgrounds… and enjoying, no, REVELING in each other’s company with such feverish intensity that planning our next visit was being discussed before the current one even had a chance to end. We were lucky. We only lived a few miles apart. He lived fifteen minutes down the highway and I was just 2.5 miles across town. These sleepovers may not have occurred with the frequency that I remember, but that’s just the thing, isn’t it? In retrospect, it seems as though my childhood was chock full of positive and plentiful moments spent with my cousin at Grandma’s house. There were no frills and no fluff accompanying these visits. She was kind and compassionate, but never afraid to reprimand us when we got out of line. Her sternness would come as such a sharp right turn from her typical delivery–which was almost always genuine, cheerful and accompanied by a little bit of giddy laughter. It was so jarring that it rarely had to be utilized and was always heard and abode by without a second warning ever needing to be issued.
Our routines were relatively structured. We slept when she slept. Well, okay, she would drift off during the day with her head tilted back onto the cushion behind her–mouth agape, snores reverberating loudly against the walls and windows– we wouldn’t sleep during these periods, rather we’d chuckle under our breath and try to tickle her with bird feathers. However, at night… our schedule was dictated by her own. She would make a pallet on the floor of her bed and we would curl up in it while watching her dial-tuned television flicker steadfastly on throughout the evening–during the winter, the space heater warmed our toes and gave us comfort. Our dreams saturated with reruns of “Night Court,” “Mama’s Family” or whatever was on during the late hours. If we could get away with it, Andy and I would take turns playing Tetris on his Gameboy. I was not fortunate enough to have one of my own, but he was more than willing to share it and for that I continue to be grateful. When the morning came, she would not ever drag us out of bed prematurely, despite her rising at an ungodly hour. Nope. We could sleep until around nine–and then gather around the kitchen table for a simple breakfast of corn flakes, toast and jam, buttery pound cake, or on the rare occasion: Church’s Chicken biscuits. Other menu options throughout the day? I distinctly recall eating a lot of frozen microwave baked potatoes, handfuls of Fritos and saltine crackers, and to sate our eight-year old sugar-fiend selves: gummy orange slices, store-bought oatmeal and sugar cookies piled up to the brim within the parakeet and panda bear ceramic jars on the counter top, sherbet, icebox pudding pies with graham cracker crust and Cool Whip and whatever candy we inevitably picked up on our outing to the gas station at the end of the street!
Other times, we would stroll down Thomas Avenue, through the church parking lot, and straight into Candy Cane park with Sissy the dog and Grandma in tow. Here we’d swing on the metal ponies, climb on the monkey bars, summit the steel structures and tumble over the wood and tire “car” apparatus. Countless hours exploring and running free. So much time spent in our own world, developing and growing our ability to create something from nothing, all while under the watchful eye of our Grandma Helen. I can’t imagine how bored she must have been during these visits, but she never complained to us. She never made us feel as though we were an inconvenience or a nuisance. We never felt like we were unwanted. But, we also never made her the star of the show. She was our guardian, but we knew that we couldn’t (and shouldn’t) look to her as our sole source of entertainment. We did revel in the times that she would indulge us in trips down memory lane–me especially– flipping through old photo albums, scouring over nature books focusing on backyard songbirds or the mountains of Colorado, having her show me her old paintings and sketches. We lapped it up. However, for the most part, it was left up to the blank slate of our whim and whimsy to fill up and fill in the hours spent at her house. She offered the venue, the supervision, the patience and the few random tools we might require and then she unhooked us without hesitation, fear or regret and let our brains serve as the compass plotting the weekend’s course.
I was and am still indebted to her for this.
My nostalgic cup runneth over with such beautiful memories of her and the time we spent together. Yet, none of them are connected to purchases she made, items she bought or the result of any extravagant expenditures or grandiose gestures of any kind. She literally opened her home and her arms to us and that was all we required, wanted, needed or craved. She was enough. And she will always be enough. Even after Andy and I drifted apart and stopped spending our weekends at Grandma’s… she continued to remain a constant fixture in my life. Just her. Looking back, I don’t remember a single Christmas gift she bestowed upon me. But, I do remember helping to decorate the exterior of her home with my Dad and cousin– draping it in colored lights. I remember the Christmas afternoons spent sitting in her far-too-small living room with the ever expanding Smith clan and knowing what it meant to have a family that loved you– a family where the laughter deafened the sounds of tears and the warmth from love could thaw all the frigidity the world could ever throw at us. I don’t remember any birthday presents she brought to me, but I remember what she would write inside the cards. She never would forget a birthday and she was in attendance at every one. I don’t remember her taking us out to see a movie in a theater, but I do remember watching “Sister Act” on repeat on VHS tape in her living room. I don’t think she ever contributed to my large library of books at home, but she definitely took time out of her days to read out loud to me when I asked…. even though her selection was small and led to her reciting her least favorite of all: “Green Eggs and Ham” more times than I’m sure she would have preferred. And because of this… I can instantly recall her voice and the face of disgust she would make at the material as she read it out to me. I do not remember her buying me trinkets or figurines, but I do remember her letting me go underneath the spare bed in the guest room and hand select some of her own to take home with me as a keepsake: birds and dogs that continue to be displayed on my mom’s shelves. She might not have gifted me new stuffed animals whenever I asked for a new addition to the fluffy furry family I obsessed over, but I do recall that her favorite toy from when she was a little girl was a panda bear. And I take comfort in knowing where that little buddy is today (in a cabinet in my parent’s house). I don’t remember her buying any new clothing for me, but I remember playing dress up with her, trying on her jewelry and spritzing myself with her perfume, sorting through her and grandpa’s closet, and even still could probably recall 99 percent of her wardrobe by heart. I don’t remember her ever coming over to babysit. Yet, I remember her coming to every basketball game I ever played in. I don’t remember special accommodations being made for me. I don’t remember those things. But, I will never forget HER. She, with nothing more than her presence… her existence…her endless supply of love… was able to carve out a place within my heart that will never be able to be filled by anything or anyone else. It has remained empty since her passing over a decade ago. On the plus side, I was able to have her around until I was in the middle of my high school career. Not long enough….it never is…but, it was enough to have provided me with so many blessings and cherished memories and moments that will remain with me for the rest of my life here on earth.
No idea why I’m rattling on and on about this. I guess I just miss her. It’s raining and murky outside. I’ve been struggling mentally with many issues as of late. And so I’m choosing to focus on the few good thoughts that manage to make their way inside my mind. I guess I just want to remind everyone out there that material objects are overrated. I know it’s near impossible to grasp that in this consumerist culture. We are glued to our screens. We are always one-click away from owning more toys. It’s so easy and quick to buy buy buy more more more. More is better. That’s what they say. But, it’s not true. All you need is just…. enough. Subjective, I know. Enough for me as a kid proved to be what I could carry in my Hot Wheels carrying case and within my head and heart. I might not have thought that at the time. Yet, with hindsight… it’s all I have managed to carry with me through the years. We’re kidding ourselves into thinking that objects make us happy. We’re losing touch with that which really fuels our fire. We’re better off when we are the creators, the inventors, the engineers… when our happiness is not dictated by what we own but how we feel. My best memories of my youth were not due to things bought from Toys-R-Us but by the world I constructed out of dreams, wishes and desires. My grandma gave me the best gift of all in providing us an outlet with which to stretch our wings safely and securely. She did us a favor by not buying our love and affection, but by allowing it to develop organically. What is more authentic than that? We loved our grandma because she was our grandma– no strings attached. We never went to see her because of an expectation beyond that which only she as an individual… as a person… as our grandma could provide: her company, her attention and her love. That was all we wanted. And that was more than enough. heart emoticon
And man… do I miss her.
Confession: I carry a notepad with me almost everywhere I go. In my imagination I hope that when I say that you visualize a gumshoe or ace reporter of yesteryear—one with a fedora on her head, pencil behind her ear, full of ambition and rattling off phrases like “What’s the scoop?” Because honestly… I do feel quite like Harriet the Spy when I whip out my archaic recording device, flip-open the lined sheets of paper held together by cheap Target dollar spot metal coils–essentially a twisted up paper-clip….flimsy and unreliable….like my brain. Hell, I love the imagery it conjures up. It’s comforting and classically cool.
The reality is, as it so frequently is, less impressive than the fantasy.
I don’t carry it because I am an observer of the world around me… always trying to solve society’s woes or crack a code or thaw out a cold case. Nope. I am utilizing this degree of documentation to fill the void left by years of alcohol abuse. See what I mean about reality and its penchant for epic disappointment?
Drinking as heavily as I was, with the frequency and consistency that I somehow was able to maintain, with the low quality of the tepid wood-varnish variety vodka I had on a continuous IV drip directly through my bloodstream…. I was able to cause irreparable damage to my nervous system. No surprise here. And no debate to be had. Last year, when I made the life altering decision to put away the shot glasses and retire the vomit bucket for good— when I determined that the hangover I had that lasted from the 14th through the 16th would, in fact, be my final throe into poisonous torturous despair…. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that I was going to come face to face with a slew of uncertainties: mental, physical, emotional as well as otherwise. I understood that such transformations could not be entirely predicted—rather only anticipated with hand-wringing levels of anxiety and suspense. I had a tacit understanding with my body and mind that I knew I was in for an uphill battle and that I would do whatever it took to maintain some level of sanity throughout the arduous process. I did the research. I read the facts. I read personal accounts. I brushed up on my science. Yet, still, all aspects of my being were uniformly terrified. Any foray into the unknown gives us some degree of trepidation and this was no different. The fear began to manifest itself in to specific areas of the monumental task I was beginning to embark on. I was not necessarily afraid of abandoning my metaphorical crutch–or of losing my cocktail of mock-confidence–or even at the daunting notion of learning how to fill the day now that you have so much free-time. It was not even the physical taxation of withdrawal that sent shivers down that spine–the one that wasn’t sure if it was quite ready to shirk away into submission or straighten up. Those were all concerns, yes, but, they were not the most crippling of my imminent fears. The victor in the competition to claim the coveted position of “most frightening” was addressing the permanency of the damage that had already been done.
One of the perks of subsisting on a clear colored chemical was that I didn’t have to worry myself with responsibilities or pesky realities of every day life. I didn’t have to be confronted with uncomfortable truths or burdened by facts that might quash my buzz. Any obstacle that managed to unearth itself and attempt to outstretch its reaper-like bony fingers in my direction, beckoning at me with an overly dramatized curl of a limp wrist and begging me to heed its warnings of doom and despair were quickly and swiftly extinguished with another couple of rounds of liquor poured down the ole’ hatch. Anything threatening my carefree consciousness could always be fogged over and forgotten. The blackboard was constantly being erased of all traces of pertinent information needed to thrive, excel or even exist in the world in which we live. My reality, during this muddied epoch, was distant and alternate from the one I share with you all now. All of this was calculated. Although my initial foray into the world of stupor and blackouts started innocently enough—the dark shroud that addiction can pull over you was not a wholly unwelcome one. It was oddly comforting. It protected me. I wrapped myself tighter and entrenched myself deeper into its trenches and into the rabbit hole.
But, that post is for another day. The point of mentioning it is that I had enjoyed living in the mindset that everything was reparable and repairable during this period of time. I was young– my liver would bounce back (It did, mostly, liver function tests are fine—fatty liver remains). My mind resilient. Indomitable. It would recover. I would recover. This was the liquor talking. It was our humanly inherent justification instinct kicking into high gear. It was wrong. So, here we are. It’s been a year. One whole year of slaying dragons, defeating demons and battling the banshees that scream and berate relentlessly in my ears throughout the day. The temptations are strong. My tenacity stronger. Not every day is created equal. But, what I can count on with 100 percent certainty, is that each and every morning provides another opportunity—another opportunity to either crumble under the weight of the remnants, rubble and shambles of my former self or to strap on my armor, assemble my artillery, and through sheer grit and determination vanquish the seemingly indefatigable foes once again. The intestinal fortitude that I have discovered and latched onto throughout this process has surprised me in the most wondrous of ways. I am a warrior. I am a conquistador set to conquer and quell that which they said could not be done. And I am winning at this sobriety thing. I am actually doing it. I am living proof that it can be accomplished and not only that it can…but that it should be done. It is not a sentence of mediocrity or of an existence situated in the mundane… or to just be endured…rather it is a journey in progression to be embraced and celebrated… even the messy parts…even the moments that find you at your most vulnerable and pathetic. When stumbling through the steps of sobriety— the beauty is that you remember each moment…never to forget again. Or do you? Well, that’s a little more complicated. I will explain.
Indeed, reflection and introspection have served me well during the past calendar year. While, as previously mentioned, I may choose to detail out this odyssey in its entirety at a later date, for now I offer to you an area that has proven most fascinating to me on a personal level. The rebuilding of a mind pulled, pushed and put through the proverbial ringer. I was a willing (yet woefully unprepared) participant in experimentation at its most lethal and unforgiving. We took the healthy, yet already psychologically decrepit and emotionally scarred, brain of a twenty-three year old and binge-drank it to near fatal levels for years. Over and over and over again. We started slowly and worked up to the frenzied fanaticism of a newly minted law student out to change the world or the unbridled enthusiasm of a young perky Kentucky blonde getting off the bus on Hollywood Boulevard. I full-throttled this research study…dedicated scholar in the sloppy science of the slovenly and sloshed that I was. I was the shaman of the spiritual world of, well (ha!), spirits (haha!). All of that said… I was a mess for years. I would begin and end the day with a thirst to quench and it was done so with copious amounts of alcohol. It wasn’t a bender. It wasn’t a weekend distraction. It was a 24/7 lifestyle that I carved out for myself. I cannot stress enough how serious my addiction was and for how long it was that grave, dire and severe. BAC levels taken, while still able to walk, talk and process my surroundings, were clocked at over .35. These results are not from a crude party toy that someone’s parents bought them to keep in their car, but the numbers from laboratory tests at the hospital. This was also not abnormal. This was my constant. A handle of vodka (1.75L) would last two or three days. I drank until I was poisoned more than the desired amount or initial intent— I drank until I’d be reduced to an incapacitated, trembling, retching, convulsing, drenched and jaundiced mass of misery on the bathroom floor. Unrecognizable and unworthy. If I ever managed to achieve some version of sleep—I’d fear it’d be an eternal slumber rather than a respite from the living nightmare I was consistently enduring. I’d drink to escape the woes of everyday toils and turmoils and live in fear of being too successful. I drank to forget. I drank to not feel. Sometimes I’d drink to remember that which I forgot (“Oh, yeah, I put my keys into the freezer so they wouldn’t get too hot because it was 100 degrees out yesterday and I felt that they might melt.” Exaggeration, but you get the picture). And sometimes I drank to not feel the physical ramifications of the previous night’s mistakes (hair of the dog). The intoxication was not limited to a smile-infused jovial high, but served as an active contributor to the lowest of lows—the buzz never dissipated, the haze never lifted, the fog grew impossible to elude or escape from. It followed me everywhere. It was unshakable. The dizzying affects made the transition between consciousness and conscience blur to the point of being indistinguishable from one another. I was stuck in some sort of eternal purgatory—unsteadily straddling life and death…unsure which was more enviable. Rinse and repeat. The spin-cycle always in motion—never reaching completion. Or for some “Grey’s Anatomy” parallels— the carousel never stops turning.
Until it did.
And welcome to today.
I came home from a walk this morning with the thoughts in my head cranked up to eleven. If I could anthropomorphize the synapses firing inside the cranium, they would strongly resemble the coked out weekday warriors of Wall Street in the mid-1980’s…with less strippers..way less strippers. I could not, for the life of me, silence them… or even quiet them. Ideas were bouncing off the interior of my skull in rapid fire succession. POP POP POP. My body was in recovery mode from the heat and rigor of the outdoor work-out, but it was as if my brain was just now getting started. It was revved up, roaring and ready to go. But, to where? Problem was… there was too much at once. The thoughts were non-linear, scattered, and jumping from topic to topic in such a way that they could not be corralled, controlled or quarantined. I couldn’t concentrate on one long enough to give it a chance to blossom and bloom from concept into actual. They flitted about in such an erratic fashion that I am sure that the emotions in the cortex control room (think Pixar’s “Inside Out”) were probably bopping and bobbing their heads about like they were watching a ping pong match or a fly buzz around the room. A brilliant spectacle, our mind at its most optimal and finest showing, to be sure, but a wasted one. It took a long cold shower to calm the fervent storm into a far more tolerable, yet still quite frustrating, drizzle. I could once again focus. I could breathe without my chest pounding comically from the excess stress and adrenaline. Whew. Crisis averted.
But, this is the type of challenge that I now welcome and even appreciate. It’s reassuring in that it proves that I’m still here—that I’m still capable of formulating concepts and ideas. That I’m not completely broken or fully lost. That knowledge is not irretrievable or absent. That there is still a thriving world beneath the skin and bones housing the most important parts of me. This is, however, also indicative of some of the lasting issues I struggle with even now—even with 366 days of sobriety under my belt…. hence, I carry my trusty sketchpad with me—always armed with the tools necessary to transcribe onto paper any of the words or thoughts that spontaneously and unceremoniously erupt as I go about my day. Always unannounced, always intense, and ALWAYS extraordinary and miraculous in their sheer existence. During the course of the past twelve months—there have been moments, many moments, where my mind would work against rather than in cohorts with the rest of me. I would attempt to vocally convey my thoughts and end up grasping at thin air where I foolishly expected words to appear. Nothing but blank spaces and dotted lines against a black backdrop of empty space. To be fair, this still plagues me on a daily basis, but the issue has improved dramatically since the first couple of months.. where it was a welcome surprise when a coherent sentence was formed or when I was able to communicate on a level above that of the most rudiment of cavemen. Guttural grunts would probably have been more effective than whatever gobbledy-goop oozed from the corner of my droopy dopey lips. For a WordSmith (!) this proved the most frustrating of the side-effects that I have encountered. Even still, I am able to recognize my good fortune and do not take any of this for granted. My body has bounced back from the brutality it encountered at my own hands. I Benedict Arnold-ed myself. And I am lucky to be here. There is no explanation for any of this, but I am stronger than ever. I did not deserve such an auspicious outcome, but I treasure it. And through an immense amount of faith, patience as well as self-prescribed therapy through writing and blogging— my brain has, for the most part, returned to its pre-drinking performance level. It’s impossible to know for sure how much I lost or how much harm was actually done through the years of heavy drinking I partook in. I will never have the imagery or scans of my pristine untarnished unblemished mind of which to compare and contrast its current state with. Perhaps there might have been no limits to the level of genius I could have reached had I skillfully managed to maneuver this tragic detour–had I chosen to avoid diving head first into the deep end of alcoholism. I will never know. I cannot know. And I should not dwell on that which I cannot change. Oh, I see now why AA embraced the serenity prayer with such ardor (God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference).
All I can do now is focus on each day as an individual entity separate from the one prior. I must accept and acknowledge the challenges that stem from each and every one as they come. For every twenty-four hour cycle is presented to me wrapped up nice, neat and tidy-like with a bow. It is confounding, even to me, even now, how I welcome this opportunity with such inscrutable conflicting feelings so simultaneously polarizing in nature: impassioned excitement and debilitating fear. But, the rational side of me continues to win out with the acknowledgment that when my eyes crack open after a night of slumber to a world filled with light and life—that I have been provided a gift that is both undeserved and seemingly against the odds. I embrace the struggle of the daily dealings that existence dictates as I navigate through the treacherous waters without a compass or guide just like everyone else…one foot in front of the other. Instead of lamenting the time that I wasted or drowning in despair reminiscing of the failings of the past or the setbacks that I faced— I think of the future and what all is left to discover and to accomplish. I stick my hands into my chest and grip the sinewy fibers surrounding my heart and feel the unmistakable “tha-thump” pounding and pulsating within the confines of my ribcage…everything within ticking-and-tocking like clockwork…despite the battering and splintering, and wearing and tearing. Those are my war drums. They provide the rhythmical soundtrack that leads me into battle—that give me the strength and perseverance necessary to wade through the residual muck left over from my the mistakes in my rear-view mirror. Through necessity my entire internal processor has reformatted to provide me with the best possible chance of survival— my negativity replaced with an upgraded unit capable of putting a positive spin on the most atrocious of realities. Sure, I am still a realist… a Dr. Temperance Brennen, a Daria, a Debbie Downer. But, when it comes to keeping my personal outlook and morale up—I am Sunny Sunshine. I am a living personification of my moniker. I find solutions to the problems scattered in front of me—one at a time… or if you prefer your overused cliches in the Roman Emperor variety: brick by brick. I have learned to chip away at the insurmountable— breaking down the massive infrastructures into less formidable opponents, with my tiny little pick-ax hard at work, never a moment’s rest (think of the diamond-mining dwarfs of Snow White lore size.)
So I have lapses in my memory? I admit it— I have a mental handicap when it comes to my ability to conjure up every detail my mind formulates during its name-worthy brainstorm sessions. I might say something out loud and not be able to repeat what it was thirty seconds later. So what? I write it down. I document that it occurred and have the scribbled out proof to remind me of its existence at a later time. I consider it not as a damnation to suffer a life of mediocrity or as a weakness dictating the quality of my existence or definition of my character, but as a reminder that we are not infallible. We are predictably imperfect. Industrious, inventive and ingenious, yes. But, all susceptible to missteps, setbacks, bungles and collapses in judgment. It does not have to be a death sentence. I am out to prove that I am as erudite, sharp, quick-witted and annoyingly intelligent as ever. It’ll take some time to get everything back…. but, my patience is paying off. And who knows? I might be able to help you with your grocery list at some point—I do make a note of just about everything that wafts into my ear canals these days!
The negative ramifications and consequences don’t end there. They are not all silent. My body is scored with scars—remnants of ripped flesh, deep wounds, rash decisions and liquored-up logic. The physical toll of internal issues left dormant and untended to until they became impossible to ignore any longer—coaxed out through the songs of the Sirens— They serve, not as notches on a belt and worn with traditional pride, nor are they stored out of sight and hidden in shame. They are constant reminders of what I went through and what I endured…of what I survived. They cannot be erased. They cannot be minimized. Their existence cannot be denied and their truths cannot be diminished or down-played. The past isn’t pretty. But, I unabashedly maintain that my future is a dazzling array of hope and glory and fully ablaze with light and luster. This tissue, no matter how marred, pepto pink and grotesque, is painted with a silver lining. For I am one of the lucky ones. I made it—not entirely unscathed, no— but, one year later and I am back and better than ever. Hyperbolic? Hardly. My days are more good than bad… and there was a time that I never believed that I would be able to say that with a straight face…. guess I still can’t… because I cannot peel the smile from my face. My cravings are more few and far between. My optimism unrivaled. My dedication unwavering. My desire to continue to exceed everyone’s expectations, including my own, inextinguishable. Maybe I’m just having a particularly revelatory type of a day. Maybe. But, just for today… nothing can dampen my enthusiasm or tamper with the goals I have set for myself. I will be the best that I can be. And look forward to seeing how high I can fly or how far I can soar….. notepad, pencil and fedora in tow. So, there’s the scoop, ya see?