“After one or the other of my parents had kissed me good night and turned off the light by my bed, there was always a moment of bliss under the tent of my sheets while my eyes adjusted to the low light coming through the window….
Once the smell of my parents had faded away along with their footsteps; once I could feel their protection dissipate as they moved away from me; once it became apparent to me that they had checked me off their list for the night and had turned their attention to other things, then all the loose darkness in that room started to collect in the closet and under the bed, pulling itself together with such magnetic malevolence that i could not keep my mind away from it.
Without the benefit of maturity or therapy, I had no way of knowing that the darkness was as much inside me as it was outside me, or that I had any power to affect its hold on me….
Since I am only five years old in this memory, there is no telling what I might have said if they had asked me what color the monsters’ eyes were, or what the witches were planning to do to me. If they had, I might have learned to become more curious about what the darkness inside me was dishing up. I might have learned to look more deeply instead of looking away….”
Learning to Walk in the Dark – Barbara Brown Taylor
Last night my Theology on Tap book group began discussing Learning to Walk in the Dark, and Barbara Brown Taylor’s take on darkness and its place within spirituality. She writes that culture, and religion in particular, has traditionally held light and darkness as a dichotomy of good and bad, rather than as a duality of two integrated and necessary parts. She talks about “full solar churches” that consider any period of doubt or personal darkness as being preciptated by a lack of faith, and those people who would encourage you to simply have a more positive attitude and more trust in God in order to step into the light.
There are days when I would give anything to share their vision of the world and their ability to navigate it safely, but my spiritual gifts do not seem to include the gift of solar spirituality. Instead, I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season.”
Taylor goes on in the first chapter to discuss amazing things that can only happen in the dark: we can see the moon and the stars, we can hear crickets and nightbirds, chickens chill out for the evening. “Go into the chicken house at night…and it is like they have had two martinis.”
So besides the overly used notion about all we can learn from times of darkness, Taylor shows that darkness itself is not inherently bad. That’s where our group’s discussion will take up next week.
But I share all that just to give some context. What I’m really interested in thinking about is the concept of looking more deeply at the “color of my monsters’ eyes” instead of looking away. And what do I have to gain by staring into those eyes?
I initially thought I’d identify the monster I live in fear of as “disappointment.” Then I thought more and wonder if disappointment is actually born of failure. Are they two separate things, or interrelated? I’m not sure. Maybe failure is only related to the ways you’ve disappointed yourself, while there are other disappointments that are more accurately pinned to things others have done to hurt you. Either way, maybe I need to do as Taylor suggests and look more deeply into my darkness at the failure and disappointment I fear so much there.
I often feel ungrateful when I ponder all the times I’ve felt like a failure or been disappointed. I know there are times when I’ve had success. I know I have talents. And I know I have been extraordinarily lucky to have so many things go right in my life.
But there is no way to discount how much pain I’ve had in my life from the failures and disappointments I’ve experienced and how much fear I have of experiencing those feelings over and over again for the rest of my life. And it seems with each disappointment, the pain has gotten worse and worse.
I felt wonderfully blessed as a child, and although I had both sexual molestation and bullying in those years that probably profoundly damaged me and my ability to love myself and relate appropriately to others, I don’t view those occurrences as my monsters. Maybe those are the hells from where my monsters emerged. I need to think more on that.
I never really felt like I’d failed at anything until I choked at the region track meet my senior year of high school and didn’t qualify for the state meet despite being rated one of the best shot putters in the state. Yeah. It was just a sport, but it was the first time I was absolutely devastated by a personal failure. I still feel bad about it to this day.
But things still went along fairly well during college. The wheels didn’t really start coming off until I went to my first year of seminary. I got there and I wasn’t smart anymore. I felt like one of the stupid people. I had no idea how to be a little fish in a big pond. I was ashamed. I started chasing an older man. I started drinking with him to prove I was cool. I finally lost my virginity to this man and then was incredibly confused that he wasn’t my boyfriend afterwards. I was crushed. RIDICULOUSLY hurt and disappointed. But the feelings were very real. I was deeply depressed for about a year. I started drinking lots to stop the hurt. My best friends asked me to move out of our apartment. I quit seminary. Fail and fail.
Things finally got better after a few years. I got married and thought the life I’d been destined to live had finally come together. I thought my husband and I would certainly live happily ever after – forever. Then I failed to get pregnant. Then I had an affair and got divorced. Then I got dumped by the man I left my husband for. Fail, fail, fail. Shame, shame, shame. Disappointment, disappointment, disappointment.
So much hurt. So much vodka. A tenuous five-year relationship that ultimately failed and cost me a lot of money. Started a new job that I thought would be exciting and open me up to valuable work experience. Disappointment. Sobriety. Started my twelve-steps. Stopped in the middle of step four.
Fairy tale date with a man I tracked down after a chance meeting at a bar. An awesome night! And another date with him the very next night. And then I didn’t hear from him again for months.
Then the best first date ever! A motorcycle ride hugging an incredible man close to my chest on a cold night. He offers me his arm as we stroll through a lonely city park and he picks me a flower. We go out five times in the next ten days. I’m feeling so excited and hopeful! And then he falls off the radar. I’m confused and sad and disappointed.
I fall for someone else who can’t make a commitment to me. My own fault. But still I’m disappointed.
And there’s the one who causes me to get my hopes up over and over to no avail. The one I feel like I’m supposed to be with. Again, my own fault for digging in my heels and being stubborn. But the pain and disappointment and sadness again and again are very real.
It seems like the last 19 years have been nothing but a string of failure and disappointment. I’ve turned into a person who isn’t afraid to quit. I’ve turned into a person who makes terrible decisions. I’ve turned into a person who can’t seem to have a viable romantic relationship. And prayer hasn’t seemed to help. My spirituality is a lunar one that has often waned to the thinnest of crescents as God seems to ignore my prayers again and again. I wonder if he is punishing me for all the ways I’ve failed Him.
If I could just stop hoping for things and wishing for things and praying for things, I could probably stop being disappointed. But for some reason I seem to be ridiculously, perhaps even ignorantly and foolishly, resilient and hopeful. Even though I’m starting to believe that the effort and the hurt that come with the quest for love aren’t worth it; a hope and need my cynicism just can’t seem to quench keeps burning deep in my heart because I want so much for the right person to love me and care for me.
I thought as I wrote this I’d come to some conclusions about why I fear failure and disappointment so. Why do they hide waiting to jump out of the shadows under my bed? I’m sure the failure is about pride. I worry too much about what others think about me. But I’m also too hard on myself. Why do I still care about how I did in a high school track meet 30 years ago? Nobody else cares. Why do I feel like such a failure for not finishing seminary? Because it makes me a quitter? Because I felt so stupid when I was there and I don’t want people to think I’m stupid? Nobody else cares.
The rest of my disappointments, except for this job, are all related to relationships. Certainly I have made some bad, bad decisions and used lots of bad judgement. But maybe the part that frustrates me so much is that I can’t control the way other people feel about me. It’s ironic how the personal failure and the disappointment intersect there at the place where I want to control how other people feel about me.
It looks like the hell my monsters spring from – no surprise – is that addict’s best friend and character flaw, control issues. Must be time to get back to a meeting. That’s another thing I seem to have quit.
So what do I have to gain by staring into those monstrous eyes I fear so much – at those monsters that have torn and raged for so long at my mind and my stomach and my heart and my soul? Maybe at this point, I just gain self-knowledge. Maybe the ability to identify past poor decision-making and behavioral patterns will help me build a suit of armor around my heart. But frankly, right now I’m not sure that looking this one in the eyes is going to help. I’ve realized that just keeping my eyes shut and pretending nothing’s hiding there feels much better than being brave.
I was married ten years when I left my husband. I took my stuff, left a note, and moved out while he was at work. I was a coward.
I had felt like he wasn’t treating me like I deserved. I thought I deserved somebody who appreciated me. So I started having an affair with a friend of ours.
He told me he loved me. He told me that if I left my husband and found us a place to live that he would leave his girlfriend and we would finally be together.
So I did. I left my dogs and my books and my baseball cards and my life and my husband and moved into an apartment. And suddenly my boyfriend turned into a ghost. He stopped calling. He wouldn’t answer his phone. Three months after I left my husband, he told me he couldn’t bring himself to leave his girlfriend.
There I was feeling like the dumbest, most cliched, most ashamed woman ever. I had wanted what I deserved. And I had gotten it.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such crushing pain and shame. It was right on the slimmest razor’s edge of being simply unbearable. Only drinking let me live through it.
Since then, nine years ago, my relationships have been alcohol fueled, uncommitted, dysfunctional, awkward, complicated, and few and far between.
I just want another chance to have a normal, responsible, loving, committed relationship.
But although it doesn’t really fit with my theology, I can’t help but think God is punishing me. These years of loneliness and depression and longing for someone to love me again – a second chance – are the karma and judgement that I’ve brought upon myself. I got what I deserved.
My running has gone in the shitter over the past four days. I’m entered in the Rock n’ Roll Savannah Marathon on November 8th. This will be my third marathon. The first two were the Georgia Publix races in 2012 and 2013. The Atlanta race is brutal and is mostly uphill from mile 18 on. The first race broke me mentally. I had no idea how much it would hurt physically and I didn’t really know how to deal with that when it hit during the race. I finished around 5 hours and 20 minutes. I had only trained running 30 miles a week for this one.
The next year, I upped my training to 40 miles a week and cut fifteen minutes off my time. I was much more prepared mentally for the rigors of the race. I concentrated on eating more during the race, and didn’t even cry at the finish line this time.
My goal this race is to break five hours. My assumption (and you know what they say about those) is that the course will be much flatter than Atlanta. I’m using the Pfitzinger Advanced Marathon 12 week training plan that peaks at 55 mile weeks before the taper. I had to dramatically increase my mileage every week leading up to the start of the plan just to get to the mileage where the plan starts. I knew it was dicey doing that. This should be the fourth week of the plan. I was on track to run 43 miles last week. Then Saturday came.
I was supposed to run 16 miles with 10 at marathon pace. I woke up at my usual 5am long run time and was not feeling it at all. I went ahead and got dressed. Drank a Gatorade, strapped on my water belt and GU and dragged myself out the door. Sometimes when I get started, everything will shake out and I’ll be OK. I ran about a mile and then I did something I’ve never done. I stopped and walked about a quarter mile and then turned around and walked home.
Normally, I would’ve felt really guilty and like a gigantic pussy. But I felt satisfied. I enjoyed listening to the crickets on the walk back. I went back inside, laid down on the couch and went back to sleep. And I haven’t run again since.
The mileage has been killing me. I’ve been trying to pretend it isn’t; but it is. My right hip is aching. My right quad is gimpy. My left calf has been tenuous. I think I have tendonitis in the back of my left knee. I’m pretty sure my right foot is broken from when a log rolled up on me during a mission trip this summer. I limp every time I stand up to walk. I’m exhausted from getting up at 4:15 to run 11 miles before I go to work. There has not been enough sleep in the world to touch how sleepy I’ve been. I’m burning so many calories, I’m having trouble eating enough to fuel myself without making myself sick. Frankly, except for bragging rights, it’s been no fun.
This is my conundrum. Where is the dividing line between being a Bad Ass and being a Dumb Ass. If I decide to keep this up for two more months, who am I trying to impress? And how will I feel if I don’t finish what I’ve started.
I used to be entirely opposed to quitting anything I started. Then I tried it. I quit seminary. I quit my marriage. I quit drinking. I quit working through my twelve steps. I quit Facebook. When is quitting good and when is it bad?
I’ve found that it’s nice to be able to brag that I’ve run a couple of marathons, but I’m not sure how self-satisfying it’s been. It’s always a relief when it’s over. That’s what’s felt the best. But I’ve been surprised at what a let down it’s been when it’s over too.
Why would I want to keep doing something that hurts and isn’t making me happy? But that’s what competition and drive is all about. How far can I push myself? How far CAN I run? How fast can I run? (Not very.) And if I quit, will I be able to face myself and the people I care about impressing in my life. (Yes, I DO care what others think about me. I admit it.)
Why do I have this need to push myself and try to prove “something?” And what I’m I trying to prove, and to whom?
I’m not sure what to do. But I know I have to decide really soon.
How do you take back control of your brain? I took the step to disable my Facebook account a couple of days ago, and as I discussed in my last post, I’m taking a break from Boo too. It’s been a pretty interesting learning experience, even though it’s only been a few days.
I see many of the emotions I’ve been attributing to my “relationship” with Boo are still there and maybe aren’t really about Boo. In fact, some of those feelings seem to be intensified since he’s not there to run to. I’m feeling a lot of anxiety and anger for some reason, not about Boo, but in general, since I’ve cut off my contact with him.
It feels like my meds need to be adjusted, but I can’t just keep on increasing my meds every six months. At some point I need to ferret out the reasons I’m feeling all these things and deal with them.
It’s interesting to see how often in the last week I’ve finally recognized my reflex to contact Boo when I’m feeling any negative emotions. I’m not sure if that is just what you do when someone is your friend, or if I’ve been using him as a crutch to try to smooth over my other feelings. The irony of reaching out to him for comfort and reassurance is, sometimes he makes me feel wonderful, but other times he makes me feel like hell because I don’t get as much attention as I crave from him or the answers I want to hear. So reaching out to him is really a crap shoot emotionally.
My day and a half away from Facebook has been enlightening as well. I initially stepped away because the sheer volume of virtual noise was making my head swim. But at the same time I couldn’t quit my incessant habit of reading or posting. After I deactivated my account, it didn’t take long to realize how much of my life I’ve been living “performing” for Facebook. Every thought I have I think about how it would play on Facebook and how I could word it just right for the maximum laughs or strongest impact. Everything I read I consider whether I should share it on Facebook and how that share would shape my image to my friends and acquaintances there.
I’ve lost the ability to just live and experience things within myself. I’ve been spending a ridiculous amount of time using Facebook to seek attention and approval. And frankly, that’s been a pretty positive thing for my self-esteem, but I need to learn to have an unexpressed thought. I need to be able to look at a sunset and think, “Wow. That’s beautiful!,” instead of “Let me run get my phone so I can take a picture and post this on Facebook so everyone can see how much I’m appreciating this sunset!” I need to find approval within myself and focus my mind more narrowly. I’ve been like a yard sprinkler, spewing forth every thought in every direction. Like turning to Boo when I’m anxious or bored or sad, I’ve been using Facebook so I don’t have to look at me.
The Facebook break has been a good step. It’s helped calm my brain and helped me concentrate on myself. The Boo break is still hard. I miss him. But at least I don’t find myself pining for him nearly as often.
I can see how I’ve been using Boo and Facebook to help tamp down and cover up my feelings. I’m using both of them just like I drank. I’m trying to find something to soothe my mind and make me happier and funnier and more clever and more accepted and more loved.
What’s counterintuitive is that although I reach out for and crave acceptance and attention virtually, when anybody reaches out to actually give me that in the real world, I totally reject them. I push them away, ignore them. I become avoidant and isolate myself. What is THAT dichotomy all about?
The question now is how to figure out why I’m sad and angry and anxious. Why do I need so much external affirmation, yet run away from it at the same time? Why do I not have more self-confidence when I actually do realize that I’m smart and funny and fun and kind and have a nice waist to hip ratio.
Why am I not tougher and stronger? Why can’t I be the badass I really want to be?
I love the holidays. I really do. But there’s something deep inside me that doesn’t. And I’m trying to figure out what it is.
It started about 16 years ago. Just before Christmas, I read in my college alumni newsletter that one of my best friends from college had her first baby. My husband and I had been struggling and failing to get pregnant. I remember sitting in my living room floor wrapping presents and feeling like life was passing me by. Everybody else was effortlessly turning into adults who were achieving their hopes and dreams. And I was in a unchallenging job plugging in overhead projectors and I couldn’t even manage the basic woman-skill of conception. (I mean you have to take pills to KEEP it from happening! WTF?) That was my first Christmas with the blues.
I dealt with a little mild depression every holiday after that, but generally attributed it to not being able to capture the magical feeling of Christmas as an adult the same way you can as a child.
Then five years ago, I started having shortness of breath and heart palpitations about a month before Christmas, particularly in the mornings when I first woke up. I was drinking a lot at the time and thought maybe my alcoholism had gotten so bad that I was having those morning shakes that you read about because your body needs a drink. But as soon as Christmas was over it went away.
Christmases continued that way, even after I got sober. Until last year when the heart palpitations started around Thanksgiving and didn’t stop until Christmas Day. (Yay! Special bonus hyperventilation!!!) It was particularly bad when I thought about the list of things I had to do before the holiday. I didn’t feel consciously overwhelmed in my brain, but my body sure was acting like I was.
This summer, when I went through deep depression, I had these same familiar physical symptoms. Again, they didn’t seem to be related to anything I was consciously worried about in my mind. My therapist explained that it’s a physical response to deep-seated anxiety. And when I did a little reading about anxiety, I realized I’d been suffering from it for a long time without even recognizing it.
The work I’ve done with my therapist and my prescription for Paxil made such a big difference in my agitation level these past few months, I happily assumed that I wouldn’t have to deal with the return of my annual holiday anxiety. But boy did it turn out I was wrong.
Last Monday afternoon, the week of Thanksgiving, out of the blue all those physical symptoms came back like a punch in the chest. I was so scared. “Not again,” I thought. “I can’t go through the sadness and pain and depression again so soon!” I went home, fell on the couch with the cat and hid under my blanket.
I talked with my therapist about it a few days later. She asked me what I like about the holidays. I like the beautiful, colorful lights and decorations – the more twinkly the better! I love the music – our old family favorites like Andy Williams. and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Robert Shaw and the ASO and Tennessee Ernie Ford. I never miss any of the old Christmas shows on TV – Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Nestor, Winnie the Pooh, Christmas Vacation! And I nom all the food and cherish all the time with my family. These things make me happy.
Then we talked about the dark things the holidays bring up for me. The things I’ve always thought I had under control. The things I thought I was dealing with. The things I thought I had pushed down. There are a couple. And they are some of my bleakest memories.
The last time my molester touched me was in front of a Christmas tree when I was 14. (Fa la la la la la la la la.) It’s the one time he touched me that I feel guilty about. I feel like I was old enough to say no – to make him stop – to yell – to tell. Why didn’t I stop him?
Secondly, this is the time of the year (the day of the SEC Championship game 2003) that my daddy suddenly got really sick with pneumonia, spent three weeks in ICU on a respirator and then on to a long-term rehab hospital where he had a massive heart attack and died in early January. God. I still miss him so much. And I have such regrets about his time in the hospital. I know they’re unfounded, but they’re still real.
While he was on the respirator he couldn’t have anything to drink. Can you imagine how thirsty you’d feel after not having a drink in a month? He asked me one day for a drink of water and I had to tell him no and explain that he might aspirate anything he drank. After he died, I would’ve payed a million dollars to go back and give him that stupid sip of water. The one time I visited his grave after he was buried, I didn’t leave flowers, I left a bottle of water.
Also, while he was laying in the rehab hospital Daddy mouthed the words around the respirator asking us to take him home. My brother explained to him that he was getting better and being weaned off the respirator there and we couldn’t do that at home. But I think he knew he was dying, even if I didn’t realize it. He just wanted to die at home. And instead, he died there alone in that hospital after we had gone home for the night. If we had known, we would’ve brought him home to pass in his sleep in his recliner in front of some old western on the TV with the newspaper open to the Jumble on his lap.
(Whew! I just had myself a good little cry!)
So I guess along with the regular holiday hustle and bustle, I have these things floating around under the surface that are triggered by the season. I want to feel the beauty and happiness of the holidays. I miss the anticipation and the joy. I don’t want to freak out every year.
I just had a moment in the stairwell at work that perfectly illustrates how overwhelmed I feel sometimes during the holidays. It was warm and quiet and suddenly all I wanted to do was put on my winter coat, shut down, quit everything and slump there in a pile in the corner until somebody found me and took me somewhere somebody else would take care of me. (But I assume everybody has moments like this, right?)
I ponder what I can do to make it better. Eating makes me feel better. Just sitting here writing this makes me want to eat a Chick-fil-a chicken biscuit chased with a whole package of Biscoff cookies followed by some General Tso’s Chicken, spring rolls with duck sauce and a Diet Coke. But I know if I take that route I’ll be back to 210 lbs. by January.
When I just pretend it isn’t Christmas, that seems to work for a while. But it’s kind of impractical and a little delusional.
I ask myself if I would feel better if I could just have Christmas without sending cards or decorating or buying gifts or baking. But those are some of the things I love the most about the season. But it’s THINKING about doing all those things that makes me start hyperventilating again. (Having a list of stuff to do doesn’t make me cray-cray any other time of the year.)
So what to do?
I know I tend to look at things in black and white instead of dealing in nuance. I don’t seem to judge others this way, only myself. I feel like if every little thing isn’t perfect with something that’s supposed to be special, then it’s no good at all, there is no “good enough.” And I suspect that’s the way I’m approaching the holidays. I want to make them perfect for me. I want to make them perfect for EVERYBODY IN THE WHOLE WORLD!
I need to accept that everything as a grown-up is suffused with the happiness and sadness of both past memory and the present moment. If we learned anything from Mrs. Garrett in the 80s it was that you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have – the facts of life.
So I’m trying to learn this Christmas that the darkness is not opaque and that the light never stops shining. That some sadness doesn’t negate the happiness. That perfection doesn’t equal joy. And if nothing else, Christmas doesn’t last forever.
Until this summer, I didn’t know I could have no feelings. There was nothing but the flat, affectlessness of depression. Nothing made me happy. Nothing made me want to leave the house. I never looked forward to anything with anticipation. I never wanted to be around anybody. I had no hope. I had no reason to live. I just lay on the couch in front of the tv with a blank mind. And I finally got in trouble at work for just sitting at my desk and zoning out in the same fashion – just without the blanket. Things were actually better in a way until about five years ago when I stopped drinking.
I started drinking in graduate school when I was going though a severe, but undiagnosed depression – that kind of depression where you wake up in the morning and feel normal for a second, and then the weight of the sadness falls on your heart for another day and you remember. I went to night classes at seminary drunk, skipped internship events, finally dropped out of school and got kicked out of my apartment by my best friends because I had turned into such a bad roommate. But things were better because alcohol relieved some of the pain.
I moved to Virginia-Highlands into a filthy, crappy old apartment, worked nights at Emory in the AV department and drank too much while running up debt on my credit cards. After about 2 1/2 years of that, I was so tired of being sad. I decided to take up softball again after several years hoping to find a way to recapture some passion for living instead of just a passion for feeling nothing through drinking. I not only found a bunch of softball at the old Softball Country Club on North Decatur Rd.; I also found a husband! My husband’s father had been an alcoholic, so he was totally against drinking. I quit for him, but also because I was so happy, I didn’t need to drink anymore. My pain and sadness were gone! There was no need to mask my feelings. My life was finally happily settled!
And then the regular day to day reality of living with someone, even someone you love, started to settle in. I didn’t know how to communicate about the things that made me mad and sad and anxious and scared. I was hurt and passive-aggressive and resentful. I started having a beer every now and then when my husband was at the ballfield to relax. Then I started thinking that if he really loved me, he wouldn’t do things that hurt my feelings or make me mad. I needed someone who would treat me the way I deserved. So I had an affair. And my partner in the affair promised me if I left my husband, he’d leave his girlfriend and we’d be together. So I got an apartment and did just that. All I could take was the stuff that would fit in the five trips I made in my car between my house and the new apartment during that day when my husband was at work. I left most of my books, my baseball cards and my dogs. (You can’t keep Labs in an apartment.) And I left my husband, who I thought I’d love forever, after ten years of marriage.
And, indeed, I wound up getting treated just like I deserved. Of course, my partner in the affair didn’t leave his girlfriend to move in with me. I was devastated. So I got up every day, went to work and watched the clock because I couldn’t WAIT to go home and drink to numb the hurt. I’d come home and sit out on my porch on a ballfield chair or in front of the TV and drink Coors Light or Vodka & Diet Mountain Dew (Hey. I was living in Conyers. Don’t judge me! When in Rome…) until I’d pass out on the couch, usually watching “Little House on the Prairie” because it was so very soothing. I will say, I got a LOT of reading done that year because I could never sleep. I could only pass out and then wake up, go to bed and not sleep.
One day when it became obvious that my relationship with my partner was over, I snuck away from work in the middle of the day, went home and got drunk. And of course, the office called and needed me for an emergency. I had only been back at work for about 30 minutes when my boss came in. It was obvious I was drunk. Fortunately, I didn’t get fired. I was just sent home. But I was so ashamed. I was the golden child; I was gifted; I was supposed to go into the ministry. And somehow it had all come to this. I felt like the dumbest, dirtiest, most foolish and worthless person on the face of the earth.
So then I started my drinking in the mornings on the weekends. Vodka & Diet Mountain Dew at 9am? Sure, why not? After about three months, my divorce was final; and after about six months, I decided I needed to get back in the world just to pridefully prove to people that I hadn’t ruined my life, that I was doing OK and was ready to happily move on.
I met a guy at a Christmas party and by June had moved to Midtown Atlanta to live with him in his condo. And we drank a lot! I’m pretty sure that there for a while we were technically minority owners of The Vortex. At least once or twice a week, we’d still be sitting at the bar there at 2am when they had turned on the lights and were sweeping the floors. But we were good customers and good tippers, so they never seemed to mind. Then we’d come home and sit on the balcony of the condo until 4 or 5 in the morning drinking Bloody Marys. Who needs more than two hours of sleep? Sure I was going to work hungover a few days a week, but I was having fun. So what if some days I had to just sit at my desk with my head down on my folded up jacket because the world was still spinning from the night before?
Things went on like this for a few years, but then when the economy went down the toilet, my boyfriend lost his job. We were just living on my salary and I was scared to death! What was going to happen if I lost my job too? I started drinking more and more. We had a very convenient convenience store on the bottom floor of my condo, and I could just swing through there every night after work and pick up a six pack of Heineken Light. I’d sit on the balcony and drink all six and fall asleep on the couch. And after a while, six weren’t enough. I finally worked my way up (down?) to a twelve pack of Natural Light every night. (I couldn’t afford to drink twelve Heinekens every night.)
I was drinking too much to go out in public to drink any more. One of my biggest fears was that I’d go out drunk and make a spectacle of myself. I wanted to get drunk as hell to quell all my panic, but more than anything I wanted to stay in control. I finally decided that I needed to get a handle on the drinking before something really bad happened. So I started by telling myself I’d just drink two beers. But if there were four more in the refrigerator, I couldn’t keep myself from giving in and drinking those too. Then I tried just drinking on the weekends. But there always seemed to be an excuse to drink during the week too: I had a bad day at work, I had something to celebrate, I had something to mourn, everybody else was drinking at Tin Roof after Thursday night softball. I was even playing ball (trying and failing miserably) while I was drunk off my ass. I was starting to realize that I couldn’t stop drinking even when I wanted to.
On February 22, 2009, a Sunday, I had been at the condo drinking all afternoon. When a friend called to ask if we were coming to the condo’s Oscar party, I told my boyfriend I was already too drunk to go. But they convinced me that it would be fun. I agreed to go, but told them I wasn’t going to drink any more. But when I got downstairs to the social room, there was free alcohol. I was powerless. I drank through the whole Oscar ceremony and then we proceeded to our friend’s 4th floor condo to keep drinking. When we drank up everything we had there, they convinced me to go back down to the social room and see if there was any alcohol left there. I found a half-full bottle of some kind of pink wine in the refrigerator and went back to our friend’s with it. The last thing I remember was sitting on my friend’s couch drinking this DREADFUL wine, smoking a cigarette, feeling sleepy and thinking to myself, “I don’t need to fall asleep on this couch with this lit cigarette.”
About an hour or so later I woke up sitting on the floor leaning against the wall next to the elevators on the 20th floor down the hall from our condo. I couldn’t get up. I knew I needed to get to our door, but I just couldn’t rouse myself and passed back out. Finally, I woke back up enough to make it home and my boyfriend was standing in the kitchen FURIOUS! Apparently, an hour earlier, we’d left our friend’s condo together and when both elevators opened at the same time we decided to elevator race to the 20th floor. (I have no recollection of this.)
My boyfriend was on the phone with the police when I walked in reporting me missing. He’d been all over the building and couldn’t find me anywhere. I was mortified. This wasn’t getting drunk and passing out. This was getting so drunk that I blacked out. My body was still awake, but my brain was asleep. I guess I’d been somewhere in the building wandering around for the previous hour, but I have no idea where I went. (I had some neighbors I didn’t really know who would giggle at me and say, “Hi, neighbor!” everytime I saw them on the elevator after that, and so I suspect they were somehow involved in whatever happened that night.)
I was scared shitless! I could’ve wandered out on Peachtree St. and been raped or robbed or hit by a car. The police had been called! This was the “out of control” I had been so scared of. My boyfriend and I both called in sick the next morning. When we woke up, I remember us just laying there in bed looking at each other sheepishly. We both whole-heartedly apologized and stumbled to the living room and fell miserably on our respective couches. I remember being prone on the love seat staring at the ceiling numbly through the entire run time of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” on AMC. (That’s a long time! A long, long movie and all those commercials, y’all!) I was so frightened that it was hard to breathe. I literally felt like there was some kind of evil force trying to suck my very soul away. I knew this had to stop. But I didn’t know how I was going to manage to quit drinking when I’d tried so hard to manage it on my own and failed.
The next day at work I poked around on the internet and found the Addiction Recovery Guide‘s Alcohol message board. People there had stories that sounded just like mine, but they were getting better. They encouraged me to find a recovery group. Then one blessed soul there gave me a sound “kick in the ass” challenge and I relented and went to a recovery meeting. Thank God! I found experience, strength and hope in the stories of my fellow recovering alcoholics. I went to this group almost every Monday through Thursday for a couple of years. I learned so much about myself and my faults and strengths. And I made friendships and support structures I’ll have forever. And I honestly have not wanted a drink since the day I walked in that room. (It doesn’t work that way for everybody. I am truly blessed.)
My boyfriend moved out a couple of years ago. The time had come. The relationship had run its course. And we parted as friends. But it was so nice to feel like I had the freedom that came with singleness. I could watch whatever I wanted to TV. I didn’t have to worry about where someone else was. I didn’t have to be quiet in the mornings. I relished all that for a while and then last year just kind of lost myself in Dr. Who for a while. Distractions had become helpful denial. I never wanted the leave the condo except to go to work and church, and I certainly didn’t want to do anything with other people. And then, as I mentioned in a previous post, the big depression started settling in around November of last year.
I fought it pretty well until Mother’s Day this year, and then the wheels came off. I called in sick that next day because I couldn’t get out of bed and the sadness and depression hit full bore. By summer, I couldn’t feel anything at all. (I felt happy for only and exactly THIS moment all summer long. Really.) My heart hurt all the time. Sometimes I’d just lay on the couch, cover my head with the blanket and pray for a bus to hit me since I was pretty sure I was too cowardly to kill myself. I’d wake up in the mornings with my heart racing. I’d lock myself in the bathroom at work and cry. I didn’t want to drink again. But I sure did recall why I had, how it numbed the pain and worry and sadness. Once again, I was out of control and powerless and I knew I needed help.
I called the Wellness Center at work (bless my liberal workplace!) and met with a nurse who discussed my depression with me and who gave me the number to call to find a therapist that was in our insurance network. When I got up to leave she asked me, “Are you going to call?” When I answered, “Maybe,” she sat me back down and made the call for me. (God bless her too! She’ll be getting a Christmas card this year!)
I scheduled an appointment with a psychotherapist (Dr. Weiner) and started meeting with her weekly. We started discussing my issues with relationships, anger, vulnerability and trust, including the effect childhood sexual abuse has had on all facets of my life. I started feeling better about myself when I understood more about how all the pieces fit together. And I slowly started feeling feelings again.
I started working through “The Courage to Heal Workbook” to learn about coping and healing. My friend loaned me a book called “The Gift of Imperfection” that was a tremendous help towards my understanding that I can live my life without shame and be my authentic self without fear. And I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed Paxil for anxiety and depression.
I knew for my whole life, particularly as I got older, that I had a touch of social anxiety. (And the alcohol had helped with this tremendously.) I was generally afraid of people, especially if I didn’t know them really well. But I didn’t realize until I got into therapy how much fear and anxiety I had about EVERYTHING. I was afraid to go someplace I wasn’t familiar with because I didn’t know where I’d park. I was afraid to try something new because I was afraid of how embarrassed I’d be if I wasn’t good at it. I was afraid to go to a movie because what if I didn’t like it. I was afraid to spend money on myself because what would I do if I went broke and had to be homeless. And heaven forbid if I had to go somewhere and make small talk with people! *passes out*
I can’t begin to tell you what a difference the Paxil has made. Between the therapy and the Paxil, I’m only afraid of things I should be afraid of like bears, the bubonic plague and Velveeta. I make eye contact with strangers on elevators and say hello. I went to Atlantic Station where I’d never driven before, figured out the parking and found the store I needed without breaking a sweat. I had company spend the night last weekend. And I invited people over to watch Dr. Who next weekend.
But most importantly, it’s brought back my joy and my hope for the future and my dreams. Little things like bringing a smile to someone’s face make me happy again now. I’m thinking about going back to theology school and trying it sober this time! And I’ve discovered that I love writing and would like nothing better than to find a way to do more of it.
So the point of this long-winded, meandering, narcissistic story of my adult life is this. If you are hurting or struggling, there is no shame in it. And there is no shame in asking for help. In fact, the only way to heal is by getting help. We can’t do it alone. It’s the aloneness and isolation that push us farther and farther down into our abyss. Reach out to someone. Reach out to me. There is help. There is hope and there is no shame. Healing and recovery and renewed joy and hope are possible. And they feel incredible.