Guest Post: The Wee Hours

This is about addiction, and isolation, and recovery; and it is written by one of the bravest people I know.

The Wee Hours

(Anon)

You know, after countless hours of talking from behind podiums, in intimate irregular circles and in classrooms, you’d think I’d have some clue on how to start a short written piece about my experience with addiction and how it relates to depression. But I don’t. Luckily, Gwen has taught me something that can be applied–she probably doesn’t know she taught me this; in fact, she probably doesn’t know about a lot of the things she’s taught me (I bet she’s squirming right now just reading this happy crap) but she has taught me a lot, and something I will now apply is that in order to write anything, you must first WRITE SOMETHING.

So hello, I’m an Alcoholic, (among other things) and I’ve been in recovery (successfully, thank God) for about 4.5 years now, and everything seems to be going very well. For those of you reading this who know me, note that I’ve chosen to remain anonymous, and I ask that if you feel the urge to comment, please respect that. Okay, onward.

I feel it’s necessary to point out that I have a unique perspective on what ‘going very well’ means, and the gratitude that comes with such a statement. For years things did not go very well at all; things were dark, and terrifying, and sometimes in the wee hours before dawn, when the fog cleared enough for me to look around and see what was really happening, things could be hopelessly unbearable. But the feeling I remember the most, the one that made all the difference, that made the dark darker and kept the shades drawn tight, was the feeling that I was completely, utterly alone.

And that, I think, is where we may relate.

I won’t go into the tale of how I became an alcoholic. Needless to say I always was, I just wasn’t allowed to express it for a long time – so when the opportunity came, I took it.

I spent my drinking years in a strong denial of what was happening to me, but those ‘wee hours before dawn’ were the rare times when I was sober enough to see that my life wasn’t going anywhere, and I didn’t see how it could. I didn’t understand how the rest of the world functioned – how people went out and lived life without a substance was a myth to me, and I believed – to my core – that I was the only one.

Nobody felt like me, nobody had the same problem as me and if somehow my terrible secret were ever to get out, nobody would ever, ever understand me. I was unique. Terminally so.

I think this feeling extends to many mentally based illnesses (or conditions or situations or whatever label makes it okay for you). This feeling of being unique, of being the only one – drowning in a world where somehow the rest of the race seems to have learned to walk on water.

So what’s the deal? Did I miss that particular class in kindergarten when the teacher said “Oh, and by the way, the following short video will teach you how to be normal.”. I don’t think I did, I just think my–or dare I say ‘our’–view of normal gets horribly out of sync. We look at the rest of the world and we see a bunch of swans gliding gracefully across the water, but we forget that just below the surface, they’re all paddling like hell. If you think about it, the best part is that to someone else, you’re the swan! You fluffy little devil, you.

The scariest thing for me about getting sober was my family finding out. I can tell you, addition is a full time job – it takes 24 hours a day of lying, hiding and switching masks on a per-person basis to keep those who love you from finding out that you are literally killing yourself – but I did it, because in my mind (and that’s the key right there) them finding out would be worse than death itself. In fact, I used to be scared sometimes that I wouldn’t wake up – not because I would be dead, but because of what they would find out. I was okay with dying, but I wanted a bit of warning first so I could, you know, shine the place up for the wake.

If it wasn’t for the feeling that I was oh so unique, I may have known long before that it’s okay to say “hey, I’m having some trouble and I think I need some help”.  I might have realized that the people who loved me, actually loved me, and that means they’d do anything to support me. I thought the word ‘help’ meant ‘fail’. It doesn’t. To me, saying ‘I need help’ is saying ‘I am human’. We all need help – It’s like when you’re sitting in a classroom and you don’t understand but you’re too afraid to put your hand up and say so. What we don’t realize is that NOBODY understands. Next time, put your damn hand up, ask the question and watch the heads nod. Us upright waterfowl gotta stick together.

Alcoholism is a strange thing. I once heard it described as the only disease with a ‘fun phase’, but we who are in recovery have each paid a hefty toll, and although we sometimes laugh at the impossible situations we’ve survived, we do so out of gratitude for the second chance we’ve been granted, and for the knowledge that no matter what someone has been through, someone else has gone through it before. I think that two of the most powerful words you can say to someone else are ‘me too’. One brain is not a big enough place for the shit we live through in this world, so share a little pain and get a little hope – nobody is ever the only one.

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Guest Post Friday: The Rules

 

Guys, I’m not going to lie to you: This is some heavy shit.

I’ve written and deleted about three other lines, so that tells me that I actually have nothing else to say. I’m going to let this post speak for itself.

 

THE RULES

– Anonymous

 

You may not kill yourself when drunk.
You may not kill yourself while listening to the “sad songs” cassette.
You may not kill yourself in direct reaction to anything someone says that is hurtful.

Later amended to add: You may not kill yourself over a guy. Ever.

When I was a teenager, I knew the rules. They were important: a promise to myself. I would *never* promise not to kill myself. That option needed to remain open, an escape from the pain. I knew it would be a selfish act, turning my back on my life and the people in it. I also knew that it would be a relief – for me and also, I believed, for my friends and family. Maybe not immediately but in the long run, certainly. But it wasn’t really about them, it was about me. About the constant effort to just make it through the day and acknowledging that I might not want to keep making that effort. I might choose the peace and quiet of giving up.

I knew other people weren’t like this. I devoured books on crazy women: Sybil, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bell Jar. I wondered if that was who I was.

In my twenties, I changed the rules into one simple one.

You must give twenty-four hours notice before killing yourself.

I remember standing at the top of a sheer drop, on the edge of a cliff, staring down at the waves dashing onto the rocks. It was a long drop, a few stories high. I would probably break my neck in the fall. If not, well, I would be too broken to swim, so I’d drown, eventually. The neck breaking would be better, though. “So fine,” I thought. “tomorrow evening, if I still feel the same, I’ll come back here and I’ll be allowed to do this.” Because that was the rule: 24 hours notice.

I wasn’t so sure, when it came to the next day. The broken drowning option sounded pretty awful. Maybe give it another day. Maybe do it then.

And the day after that, my clouds lifted and I saw the beauty of the cliffs and the sea and the sun setting low across the mountains. And I was glad that I hadn’t jumped and I renewed the promise to myself again: that when I felt that way, I would wait the twenty four hours. I never promised that I wouldn’t kill myself, that was a step to far. But to wait a day, that I could do. I promised myself, again and again and again. And day by day, I made it forward.

This is what life was like for me. Weeks of normality, of happiness even, and then it would start. The first sign would be bruises. I became clumsy. “The ground is uneven under my feet,” I wrote in my diary, code for the depression descending again. Then the overwhelming hopelessness. Everything was futile. I couldn’t cope with the world. I was a waste of oxygen. People stared at me in the street. On the bus, no one would sit next to me, people would stand rather than get too close to the crazy. I felt nothing, I felt everything. I burned my soft skin so I could feel something comprehensible. I regularly took time off work, unable to get out of bed.  When it got bad, if I couldn’t retreat, then I would lose the ability to speak. The words pounded against my throat but I couldn’t get them out. When it was bad, I knew I wouldn’t kill myself because I was too useless even to do that. And I hated myself for it.

That’s what depression was like for me. And now, twenty years later, I still thank fortune every day that I don’t feel like that anymore. Every time, I pray to gods that I don’t believe in that I will never feel that way again.

And still the promises remain. I live on stable ground now, the sidewalk rarely shifts beneath my feet. But if the darkness descends, I can’t promise that I’ll be strong enough to keep fighting forever. But I do promise I’ll make it through one more day, to give the light a chance to break through.

 

To the US of A at large:

“I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside of us that insists that despite all the evidence to the contrary, something better awaits us.”
-President Barack Obama’s victory speech, 2012

Dear America, United States of:

This is not a political blog, but I have to say it: Today I am very proud to call you my neighbour. Thanks for showing up, standing in line, shouting on twitter, battling identification problems and busted machines, and all of the other million small things you did in order to VOTE, that meant I got to fall asleep happy last night.

Sincerely,
Gwen

Nano, Meds, Cats, and other four-letter words.

Nano is not technically a four-letter word. Neither is ‘meds’. I just need everyone to know that I know that.

It has been suggested that I Add More Cats in the interests of garnering readership for my Guest Post Fridays, thus I give you ‘Kitten With Giant Ears, In a Bowl’:

This is Harry.

He’s made it his mission in life to touch everything I cook with.

This is not going well for me.

I have a date with the doctor to plan my withdrawal from meds. Hope it’s as easy as it was to go on them – fingers crossed. In my ideal world, what happens is I go off of them slowly an properly and all of my little seratonin reuptakers just kind of . . . figure out their jobs. And do them. ForEVAH. I’m not sure about the anxiety…is it part of them? Will it come back, full blast? Regardless, I don’t feel (right now) like there’s anything in the offing that I can’t handle. So that’s good. I’m debating preemptively going back to see my therapist just to have a hand to hold if I need it, but right now I really feel like I don’t. Won’t.

NaNo. Anyone else doing the month of hell this year? I started with an actual – Gasp! – outline this year, and even a plan. In preparation I’ve been brushing up on Michael Moorcock’s How to Write a Book in Three Days (by whose logic I ought to have about 27 days free this month…right?) and the incredible, brilliant, irreplaceable Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Stupid Plot Tricks.

Some other four-letter words are: Skip, dogs, call, gulp and kick.

You’re welcome.

G

Guest Post Friday: Learning to Deal

Today’s guest post is from a very dear friend of mine. Seamus and I were at VPXIV together – Seriously, current grads, keep up the friendships/oaths/S&M relationships/whatever you forged at VP – and he went on to co-build Paradise Lost. The amount of energy that he puts into the various parts of his life coupled with the ridiculous level of outgoing that he has achieved, makes it easy to forget that there’s still a lot of introspection and careful thought going on inside. Seems to be a repeat lesson for me, over and over, in these blogs: books, covers, the not-judging-of. You know the one.

His blog is here. You should go read these.  But read this first, because it’s part of the sad/touching/balls-to-the-wall-honest thing we’ve got going on here.

 

Learning to Deal

By Seamus Bayne

Sad Pumpkin is sad, and smells a little funny.

  Depression isn’t something people like to talk about. It is a ten-letter word, and comes loaded with lethal assumptions and triggers. Just writing about it unnerves me. First, because talking about my own experience scares me. Second, because it is a dangerous subject. There are few conversations that start with, “Let’s talk about depression,” without a pregnant pause on the part of the audience.

My experience with depression is 21 years old, but the scars and emotional clear-cutting are still part of the landscape of my person. In some ways, they define me more than any other experience in my life. You see, I do not think you ever get over depression. You hear people say, “Just snap out of it.” Which is as helpful as telling a burn victim to just stop being scarred. You can get better, and you can put miles and decades between you and your experiences, but the scars are there, and they always will be.

Mine come from the death of my father, when I was nineteen years old. I had a wonderful father, whom I loved dearly. He was one of those larger than life people who lived the edge of being a caricature of American archetypes. I, on the other hand, was quiet, nervous, shy, bookish, fat, and desperately trying to live up to my own perceived expectations of what he wanted from a son, and needless to say, failing badly at it. If he read this now, I have no doubt he would be horrified and hurt to know how deeply I felt I disappointed him. It horrified me to think he perceived me as a screw up. So, his existence defined my own, completely, and in a sense placed a capstone on the expanses of my own ability to imagine who I could be, or was. I did this to myself, and it deeply limited my ability to develop as a person, because I could not be my father. I was never meant to be him, and if he were here today, I would like to think he would hug me and tell me he never wanted me to be.

Knowing this, and knowing how he defined me, when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack at forty-six years of age, it left me alone in an uncertain world, bereft of the confidence he would protect and guide me, and struggling to understand the scope of my new role as the oldest male in my sadly shrunken family. It opened up a place inside me into which I fell, and stayed for years after, perhaps as much as a decade. This was the mouth of depression, swallowing up my childhood, stealing the innocence of youth and leaving me with the weight not carried by most adults until they are well into their middle age and life has prepared them better to understand themselves and the burdens of grief, both personally and as part of a family.

The months following his death I did what a dutiful son does, but I could feel little emotion for anyone, or anything. The world became flat, gray and threatening. To this day, I feel my capacity to trust and love greatly diminished, and only with great effort do I allow myself the luxurious risk of caring for a small garden of friends and family. I spent those years of my life struggling, from nineteen to twenty-six, I fought hard to find some ground on which to stand and figure out who I was. It was not until I was in my early thirties that I sought out a therapist to try to understand my history of mood swings, drinking, drug use, and why I struggled to sustain lasting relationships and friendships.

My therapist looked at me during a session and said, “Well, obviously you were deeply depressed. I wish you had sought help earlier, you could have saved yourself years of suffering.” I recoiled at the thought that I could have been depressed. Depression was for the weak. Right? What did he mean I was depressed? I was furious with him. He was gentle with his application of the two by four of knowledge in explaining my symptoms and how lucky was that over time I had learned ways to cope with them and eventually got better.

Nevertheless, I am still someone who lived with depression, even if I am no longer depressed. I am still someone who has something like a whole decade of his life defined by it. The adult I am today is someone who was born out of learning to deal with that struggle. My cynicism, my anger, my ambition to acquire wealth and power to surround myself with protection. These are all the acts of someone who once had the rug pulled out from underneath their feet, and fell down hard. Someone who knows how fragile life is, and who will always live with that fear, and struggle not to let it define them.

The path of crawling out of depression is how I became who I am. It made me strong, hard and capable. It forced me to trust in myself, and to be mindful of my own goals and needs. It taught me that life is hard, that what other people think is rarely important, and that social convention and rules are made to be broken, if you must.

I could never have climbed so high, if I had not fallen so far, and that is something so few are lucky enough to experience. For that I am thankful.

-Seamus