Seven and Forty

This morning, I woke up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed.

Ever since my car’s transmission decided to go belly-up, 25 days after I bought it as-is, with no recourse or grace from one of the St. Louis Area’s top 20 privately-held companies, with revenue in the mid nine figures – getting to work takes me four times as long, and involves a particularly inconvenient ordeal. Our transit system has some real bright spots, and my new apartment is close to several of them. My work, on the other hand, has limited transit access, exacerbated by system planning, which doesn’t favor westward commutes.

Not exactly how I envisioned my life at 47: broke, divorced, childless, and working in a job that takes every bit of my energy, along with a schedule that requires insane amounts of caffeine, in order to keep up.

When I was younger, and would find myself in situations like this, I would often think to myself, “there has to be more to life than this.” Today, I know better. This is life. This is how it is. This is as good as it gets. The sooner I accept it, the happier I am.

These are the consequences of my actions and decisions.

The last six months have been a constant tumult of movement, followed by roadblock. I lost a job, due to performance issues directly related to drinking and drug use – otherwise known as Relapse Number Seven. It was a job I was increasingly growing to hate, given the increased toxicity. Working for the government can be rewarding – until it isn’t. And, when the budget runs constant deficits, and your agency is a perpetual, political football, it ain’t fun.

Relapse Number Six cost me my marriage and house. Number Seven cost me my job and any hope of financial solvency. With every relapse, over the last 25 years, the will to recover becomes more difficult to muster, the faith in recovery that much harder to grasp. The hope of a better life fades even farther from view.

And, every. Single. Obstacle. Every messed up transmission, every discouraging meeting with an attorney, every stressful e-mail from a realtor, every hard conversation with a  family member, every time I have to chase down a non-responsive car dealer, every impossible customer or selfish co-worker, every damned time the key-card to my building doesn’t work, and I have to wait an hour for a maintenance guy – who knows nothing about key-cards – to show up without the proper tools (the fault of his employer, not him), so that his best course of action is to hammer the hell out of my lock, and tear the damned thing off (scaring my dog in the process)….

Every. Single. Obstacle. Becomes another punch I take. And, take. And, take. The gloves some down, arms slack and sore with each blow, leaving me vulnerable to the next one  – the inevitable take-down.

Depression is like that for me.

Life is hard enough without a bunch of extra BS getting in the way – both the external circumstances, and my inability to accept them. Add those elements to the equation, and life becomes damned near impossible.

For most of my life, I’ve thought that money, success, status and a partner in crime would help mitigate most of this difficulty. That’s a lie.

I’ve never had much money, but I keep reading about high-profile suicides of wealthy people. So, that can’t be only solution.

I’ve had success and status, and aside from a sense of self importance, those things come with their own stress.

I’m not the greatest at being a partner, which helps explain why I’ve never been able to attract a good partner.

These latest suicides – that of fashion icon Kate Spade, and Chef/Writer Anthony Bourdain – prove that “having it all” can leave a person wanting. I mean, here I am, mourning the death of all my dreams, only to realize that achieving those dreams isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

I don’t know much about Kate Spade, however, I was a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain. He’d be a guy I could drink with, if I could drink with impunity. Sometimes crass, often irreverent, he was – at the same time – deeply insightful. When he launched his new show on CNN, it felt to me like he found the perfect fit – a channel that would allow him to go as deeply into global perspectives as he did food – to really draw out the relationship between food and the community it serves, and to place some favorite dishes within sociopolitical context. As a viewer, Parts Unknown was a perfect fit for me, too – a beautifully complicated tale, as told by a thoughtful but tortured soul.

Anthony was never shy about discussing his past with heroin or cocaine. And, so much of No Reservations was the crew rolling film on “drunk Anthony.” Prolonged use of those substances will re-wire brain chemistry – and, alcohol is a depressant. That doesn’t even get into the life circumstances that cause trauma for so many. For me, it was growing up the target of grade-school, and junior-high bullies, weathering my parents’ divorce, feeling so acutely different, because of how I walked and talked, and because I had little to no social skills, among my peers.

More likely than not, I’ve suffered from some form of depression since childhood, but it was easy to mask by making myself busy, or distracted. As I got older, I learned about drugs and alcohol. Then, in periods of sobriety, I would throw myself into busyness. And, when recovery left me wanting, then work became the escape. Once work was the problem, I got married. Then, bought a house, then…

Thing is, take away the busyness, the substances, the distractions – both good and bad – and I’m left with nothing but anxiety and depression – which was what hit me square, this morning, as I struggled to get out of bed and go to work.

During my darkest nights of the soul, before I would get sober (One. More. Time.), I would have this routine conversation with myself. It was a simple question that my inner dialogue would ask, upon my awakening, each morning:

“You gonna kill yourself, today?”

It was a nonchalant question, along the lines of “What’s for breakfast?” or “Did you let the dog out?” Every morning, I would answer back with a litany of responses as to why I wasn’t going to do it, that day: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem; or, suicide doesn’t make your problems go away – it only passes them on to those left behind. The last one is what has kept me going. With as much grief as my family has dealt with, regarding my behavior, I can’t bear the thought of how they would react or respond. I can’t bear the possibility that those I love would struggle with the question of what they could have done differently – when I know damned well it wouldn’t have been their fault.

Problem is, nothing would quiet the dialogue.

Over the last seven months, I’ve found myself occasionally in the midst of this dialogue. It’s not as strong. The question isn’t as loud. But, the fact that it even comes to mind is concerning. Here’s what I know, however.

Over the last seven months, the thought of drinking over my problems no longer sounds like a great option. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. It only means I’m better able to think it through.

More importantly, the driving force seems to be that, no matter how bad I feel, no matter how dark it seems, it’s important that I learn to keep going – to press on – not by simply finding some other thing to buy or achieve – thereby masking whatever feelings exist. It’s critical that I remain as honest with myself as possible. And, doing so means I need to recognize that there are days when life feels insurmountable. When I feel like the Universe just hurled a big “I-Told-You-So” in my face. When it feels like God is punishing me for wanting what I want.

I don’t have a pat answer for this, and I sure as hell don’t trust anyone who claims to have one. And, I don’t trust anyone who can’t understand the depths of depression or mental illness. Recently, I read the status of someone I don’t know all that well, who – in a way that was meant to be non-hurtful – admitted as much. And, while I appreciate the sentiment, it makes me want to run away from that acquaintance. As fast as I can. I don’t need a lack of empathy in my life.

I can only talk about what’s working. And, what’s working is continued efforts within a program of recovery, that allows me to uncover more and more hard truths about myself. And, in so doing, I’m able to change how I react and respond to life. I have a family that loves me more than I could ever appreciate. I have a dog that means the world to me. I have coworkers who love having me around, even when I can be really difficult.

I have one or two good friends who can give it to me straight, doing so with a necessary level of kindness.

One bad decision could ruin all of that. And, my addiction has already taken enough from me. It doesn’t get any more of my dreams.

If you find yourself in one of those lost nights, with endless dialogue, reach out. I know it’s easier said than done, because it’s the last thing I want to do. But, for the love of God, do it. Know that you’re loved. Valued. Appreciated. You will be missed. It will get better. But, most importantly, know that you are worthy of living.

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