Depression-the thick, dark, suffocating spider web-the sludge of bleakness. It is nothing I have not experienced before. In some way or another, I feel as if I walked into this web as a child. At the risk of overstating my case, it’s as if I began this battle at an age that seems younger than possible-As if I’m exiting the womb soon to be enveloped in an itchy, burlap sack instead of a downy-fresh, pastel blankie.
Throughout my journey to today, as I sit and write, I wonder incessantly: What would it be like to be someone with a brighter take on things? Someone who is not possessed by my necessary illusions about which life becomes unbearable? Someone who could get out of bed in the morning without being held captive by morose thoughts? Or to be that someone who does not have such thoughts performing their carefully choreographed chaos in their mind, culminating in: I shouldn’t. I should. I should have. Why am I? Why aren’t I? There’s no hope. It’s too late. Give up, there’s no hope. There’s so much to do. There’s not enough to do. This implacably despondent feeling is not conducive to the private realm-conversations with family and/or friends. In the end, I found myself alone-too proud to ask for help and too stubborn to accept the fact that I needed it.
The aforementioned is, unequivocally, the worst part of being at the mercy of your own mind, especially when that mind lists in the direction of despondence at the first itch caused by that burlap sack. At these times, the reality that there is no way out of being you coats you like a thick, black paste, which is, in it’s friendliest form, debilitating. Ridding yourself and disposing of this paste is the task that will ultimately define you.
While struggling everyday to emerge from this faded, brown, itchy, burlap sack, and at a time when I found myself living outside the burlap more often than living in it, my Father’s sudden death triggered my despondent mind to fill the burlap sack with the thick, black paste and to place myself in this sack of sadness head first. Once fully submerged, I found myself devoid of someone to intervene on my behalf and soon descended to a psychological dungeon. A place with a familiar, musty smell, a familiar lack of light, but this time there was an excess of enclosure-the likes of which I had not previously encountered and I was lost in my attempts to break free.
Then there is this: Devoid of any plan for escape, and with a wish to die like others wished to find a lover, I opened the cap on the bottle. Alas, I had found the Novocain my soul desperately yearned for. Days, weeks, months passed. I had created my own despondent planet, largely impermeable to influence from others. By the time I decided to subject myself to a substance abuse evaluation, I felt isolated in my own darkness, even when I was in a room full of conversation and light. The only band-aid (albeit over a hemorrhage) came in liquid form. I soon found it absolutely necessary to drink just to get through each day and to drown myself to sleep at night.
As I left the evaluation, there was one thought in my mind-were they correct in diagnosing me as an addict? (The answer was yes) My mind, however, went round and round the same barrage of questions like a persistent MP at Guantanamo Bay. How did I get here? How did I allow myself to get here? Why didn’t I have the resolve to stay sober? Why hadn’t anything changed with the passage of time after my Father passed away? It was one thing to drink heavily in your early 20’s, when the aspect of youth gave it an undeniable poignancy, a certain tattered charm. It was another thing entirely to be habitually hung over as you crossed the threshold into your 30’s, when you were supposed to have come to terms with life’s failings.
I suppose it would make for some kind of symmetry-a glimpse of an upward trajectory, at least-If I said the first week of sobriety was the hardest, but the truth is that it never got any easier. My frantic sense of dislocation persisted throughout my five months of treatment, yielding only at rare moments to a slightly less anxious state of hibernation.
By the end of the second week, when I was no longer chained to my psychological dungeon, I began to share in my group therapy sessions. My verbal contributions were kept short, and almost immediately, they brought home to me how artificial the dividing line is between us in therapy and the outside world. Still, the consuming issue as far as I was concerned, the question that would color my entire day-was whether I wanted to (or could) stay sober. If I could make it through without my crutch that had been leaned on so extensively, I could not imagine an existence without it.
During the early stage of therapy, the subject of sobriety lay mostly in abeyance as I sobered up and tried to acclimatize to life as an addict. My group therapy sessions met three nights a week. Each session was led by Ms. S. She exuded confidence and wholeness-she wore a diamond engagement ring and wedding band-all of which painfully reminded me that not everyone was as full of holes as I. During our sessions, I tried to borrow from Ms. S’ outlook, to see myself through her healing eyes. I reminded myself that people found me interesting even if I had ceased to interest myself, and that the way I was feeling was not all my fault.
In the beginning, the reprieve was short-lived, and within an hour of the conclusion of our group, I was back to staving off despair, doing battle with the usual demons. And then, after a group session in August, 2008, something shifted ever so slightly in my mind. Suddenly it became clear my answer to staving off despair was maintaining an existence devoid of the elixir I felt I needed to do precisely that. Maybe it was something I said, maybe my depression had finally taken its course and was beginning to recede, or maybe it was some sort of divine intervention. I had no idea what did it. Suddenly, my urge to be outside among nature re-emerged from the depths of my dark soul. I went to the park and studied the Pennypack Creek, as amazed at the stream as if I just emerged from the gulag. I was able to spend the rest of my summer slowly re-inhabiting my life, coaxing myself along. I spent time with people I trusted, with whom I didn’t have to pretend-People like Ms. S.
On a day in late August, around 4:30 PM, I found myself standing in the Atlantic Ocean, looking up into the startling, blue sky. That time of day, that time of year, brings with it a whiff of summer’s end. I could see the curve of fall up ahead. There would be new foods to try, new books to read, leaves to rake, new adventures to enjoy. The Atlantic is not the Yucatan, but to me, any escape from my despondent planet was one I needed and welcomed.
Then there is this: In some way, the quiet terror of addiction never passes once you have experienced it. It hovers behind the scenes, placated temporarily by renewed energy and a sober mind, waiting to slither back in, unannounced by others. It lives in the space behind your eyes, making its presence felt even in those moments when other, lighter matters are at the forefront of your mind. It pulls at you, keeping you from ever being fully at ease. Worst of all, it honors no season and respects no calendar. It arrives precisely when it feels like it.
But for now, at least, everything still feels fresh. My addiction and depression have stepped back, giving me room to move forward. I know one of them will return, sneaking up on me when I am looking elsewhere. But meanwhile, I know I do not want to lose the way I feel now and I know now there are people that can help me-that there is no excuse to ever live in that dungeon again.
That day in August, 2008 when something caused a shift in my mind? I lied-I know who caused it-Ms. S. There are bound to be glimpses of light if I hold fast to this current course and remember what I observed in therapy.
It certainly seems a chance worth taking.