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.