Hey, what’s up, glad you’re here. Listen, before you read this, if you’re struggling to stay sober or thinking about suicide now is not the time to read this article. There are some pretty raw descriptions. Do me a favor and call a friend or a family member. If you’re struggling with a drink go find a meeting here: http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-aa-resources and if you’re thinking about suicide call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Don’t let the fire go out.
The walk from my campus office to my old apartment was, by all means, a nice one. It had the things anyone would want, a little hidden sandwich shop, some old grand colonials that seemed to yawn their wings onto the corner of Pearl and N. Willard, young families hustling kids into forest green mini-vans, a few porch couches with undergrads practically melted into the cushions, and a corner store with a parakeet in the back. And by all means I had some nice times walking there. Towards the end of my stay, it was harder.
I made a deal with myself; if I could pass the corner store on my way home without going in then I’d get a treat. I never really knew what that treat was, but I still saved them up like a kid with quarters for some dreamed up Disney trip. Some days I walked right by the store. A few times, I even forgot it was there.
I do not know why I became dependent on booze. I also don’t know if I always was. I have no idea when it changed from good fun to abuse. I don’t know if I have a genetic proclivity and I don’t know if my upbringing made me inclined towards addictive tendencies. I won’t ever know this stuff. I do remember the moment that the veneer of control I held up over my drinking was tugged, then ripped away like a silky curtain in a hurricane.
I’d made it back to my house (a cozy, even beautiful place I was staying in that [thank Christ on Crisco] I never messed up as it belongs to two generous professors). I was kneeling on their thick bristly rug in the living room. It still had a VHS player and a CRT television, but all three Godfather movies on DVD. If I wasn’t embroiled in my own sinkhole of a head I might have noted that the turquoise motif was nicely complemented by the nature sunlight, making a veritable sensation of Little Mermaid, but you won’t drown. I was kneeling and I was working out another deal. John, kneel here and meditate. You’ve meditated before. You only have three hours until bed. Just sit with these feelings and desires for a mere three hours. Sit here, sit still and you can go to bed early and I’ll give you an even better treat tomorrow. I sincerely wanted to do this. There was no sense of irony about it. I would meditate my way through alcoholism.
Here’s the thing: meditation is hard when you’re not all fucked up on really wanting to get drunk. And so as I sat there, watching my mind wander and focusing on my breath as it conjured up images of a cold can of Heady Topper, dripping with that oddly sexual condensation, listening to the hiss and crack and raw bending of the open mouth as I drank that bitter, fruity, manly (yes, manly, all of this was incredibly weird) nectar I found that I was up and walking. But that’s fine because I was still watching my breath. And then I was outside and I’d put my jacket on, and then I was opening the door to the corner story and I heard the ratty squawk of the parakeet, and I bought of twelve pack of All Day IPA (didn’t want to drink shit and get a hangover of course) and I couldn’t look the college kid behind the counter in the face. I fucking hated myself in this moment. I always did. If you think addicts aren’t self aware and don’t hate their own behaviors then try again. I hated damn near ever moment.
And so by the time it was ten o’clock I’d finished off a twelve pack, but that aching, that stomach level sadness born from some unknown tragedy was still there. And I was out of booze. So I could either go to a bar and talk to strangers, or I could drink Listerine (I wish I could tell you the latter never happened, but it did, and I can tell you that that didn’t do my head any good either).
So this night I go to my usual spot. I’m not stumbling when I walk, but my minds a washing machine of sadness then brief, stunted, elation, then memories and anger, and everything is being seen through this kaleidoscope of nonsense and regret and self-hate. In that moment I try not to think of my family and how bad I’d hurt them if they knew.
And I get to the Other Place and get a pitcher of beer (to drink straight from) and sorta eye the room. I have to squint to keep things in focus.
I really don’t know how this next part happened. I think I was talking to someone who seemed nice and they invited me over to listen to music and it was dark out and I wanted company. I remember he drove me to his apartment.
And it was fine. We talked about music. I don’t remember his name. I do remember escaping to the bathroom because I was paranoid he was a murderer and then I ran out of the toilet room declaring he must take me home that instant. He probably still thinks I did something devious to his toilet.
The next day was worse. Hangovers had gotten worse. I don’t need to describe the physical pain. I would spend all day in bed watching a screen of people laughing, wearing bright colors and I felt nothing. No, worse than nothing, I felt like nothing was too easy. I felt, in fact, that life was not just apathetic, but inherently twisted and elegant in its cruelty. Every honest attempt to connect was lost to a labyrinth of misunderstand that all led back to shame. I thought Kafka was being instructive rather than ironic.
And all of that stinks. It’s not good time, it’s rough, it’s bad. But it was something else entirely when I woke up in the chicken coop in the backyard, shivering in the early evening air, having tried to hang myself with an Ethernet cable. And I was lucky enough to realize this thing I did was in some ways new and in some ways the logical continuation of my behavior. Because at that point, having my life handed back to me for another try, I couldn’t pretend I was the only one who was suffering from my actions. As I shivered on the wood floor under the slate sky feeling the slight cold breeze and looking at the primary colors inside the snapped Ethernet cable I could only picture my dad’s sorrow, which I’d only really seen once. It is something I saw and will live in me until I die a quiet, sober death.
It was in a psych ward a few years before. My family came to visit. When my father saw me and he saw the bandages on my wrists he let out a choked sob and turned away and cried. It is the only time I’ve ever seen him do so. Laying there, on the floor, straw and fetid dirt in my hair, I didn’t want to imagine what it would do to him or my mom or brother and sister if I continued to be so self-destructive, in solipsitically selfish.
And I wish I could say that that was my bottom. But, it wasn’t. That’s another story for a different time. I’d spend months trying to control my drinking. Trying to treat myself into sobriety. I think the truly scary thing about all this is how much it resembles chance. Why an Ethernet cord? When did it break? I want to say this stuff doesn’t matter, the sheer absurdity of the fact that I’m still alive, but it does. You see, there’s a whole lot of morals I want to keep from this moment. They flip in and out of my mental grip like writhing fish. But right now the one word that sounds again and again is How? How did all this happen? How am I still here? How am I not dead? How am I not dead? And isn’t that one of those questions at the core of everything? Why am I here? There are a lot of answers I’ve been told (some terrible, some good, some great) that ring with various vibrations of cliché (the answer’s clicheness does not correlate in any way with its truth), but right now I want to sit in the wide open space that question provides.
Because in some ways that was the same thing I was fighting when I was drinking, that question, why the fuck am I here? But this time I get to have the tacit assumption that I should be here. And that trust gets to guide my actions. I just didn’t have that before. Not in middle school or high school or college, even now some days might be a little harsher than others (course I can live with it). Sometimes, before I can even practice gratitude for all this, I just want to sit in awe of all this immense shit and wonder at how sublime and bizarre it is.
I guess, it’s important to let you know that I didn’t get better by myself. I work a program, I have community, family, friends and my own desire to be willing to work, that’s what keeps me sober and doing okay.
And I guess, if you read this and some part of it feels real to you, maybe too real, then just remember that that stupid cliché is true. If you ask for help and you put in the work it (whatever your particular “it” is) will get better.
Look, there’s no good way to end this story and frankly I’m happy that’s the case. This story is still happening, now, as I type these things and you read them. I’m still here and so the story is still happening. But, if not for some complex confluence of events you would not be reading this and I would be a statistic. Thank you for reading this.