I didn’t want to feel anymore, and I welcomed the darkness. Except. It didn’t take me under. Instead, I woke up. Literally. Figuratively. Despairingly. Thankfully. I woke up. And I’ve woken up every day since. Even when I haven’t wanted to.
I guess that’s the spoiler alert to this story. A headline might read: Man Who Wanted To Kill Himself, Did Not. Equal parts dark comedy and tragedy. But I’m standing here today because God’s desires for my life outweighed my desire to stop living it.
22 years ago, I was like most college kids, wanting to do big things: achieve big. live big. drink big. I put pressure on myself to achieve, and I had recently transferred from a small, private college to a large, big name, state public university. And, like most kids without a whole lot of direction or frontal lobe development, I poured myself into the party scene on campus.
As a student, when I showed up for class, I did really well. Except the hard part was, well, showing up. Instead, I much preferred polishing my potential to imbibe. I did really well at that, too, and somehow, I always showed up for it. The more I partied, the more I thought. The more I thought, the more tightly the noose of my mind trapped me inside. I read a lot… thought provoking literature like “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Still Life of the Woodpecker.” I lived inside my head, which, as it turns out, came at a much higher cost than tuition.
In fact, the school made some decisions for me, and the next season fell like dominos. I was asked not to return to campus. Boom. I didn’t want to return home. Boom. I got a job helping to build a steel mill. Boom. I was faced with tough working conditions and daily, pride-shattering verbal beatings from construction workers. Boom.
As they fell, I retreated further and further into myself and the faux-comfort of my own head. Depression does its most masterful work in isolation, and did it ever have a heyday with me, sadly, miserably alone. My options looked bleak, and my self-worth was non-existent. A comfortable escape from this life seemed like the most favorable course of action.
With my thoughts taunting me, I swallowed a toxic quantity of pills and slipped into unconsciousness hoping to never open my eyes again. I wanted a departure from my own heart beating in my ears. But God had other plans for me. As my eyelids flickered open, I expected to see the afterlife, but instead, I stumbled behind the wheel and made it to safe haven in Siler City. How I got there. Why I got there. What I was thinking. It’s all darkness. The two things I know: I didn’t kill myself (despite my best efforts). And I didn’t kill anyone else (mercifully).
When I arrived, my brother-in-law took me to the local hospital where the contents of my stomach were pumped out. Unfortunately, the thoughts that were polluting my mind and the depression and malaise clogging my soul were left right where they’d been. And, like anyone would, following a failed suicide attempt, an unstable grip on mental health, and a rebound from a life that was falling apart… I shoved it all way down deep, got back into school and on with the show.
I hid my pain under layers… and layers… and more layers of alcohol. What started out as fun social drinking with others quickly turned into a game of chasing the buzz when I got home, which then spiraled into misery as the devil came out of me alone. Fueled by Red Bull and vodka (which inevitably became heavy on the vodka, light on the Red Bull), I let the worst parts of myself out to play. I had recently ended a relationship amicably and well, but the alcohol told me that if I didn’t burn it to the ground, I hadn’t ended it well enough. So I made sure to leave it decimated. I would hide the empty half gallons of my liquid oblivion in nooks and crannies of my home, stumbling out of the house at 3:30 in the morning to throw them away. But never eradicating the damage they were doing inside of me.
Then the light came in. I reconnected with Beth, an 8th grade classmate, who I’m now favored enough to call my wife. Things began to make sense in my world, and I was motivated to be the man that she saw in me. She knew about my past, and still, she loved me and wanted me. But, the tentacles of depression and anxiety fought to keep me in their grasp. For moments, they would go into remission, but they weren’t gone. The more I drank, the more I was reminded that they were there lurking in the shadows of my soul.
I slipped back into my old patterns, and I let my addiction pick up our conversations where we’d left off. Since my office is detached from our home, it would lure me away from the sanctuary of my wife and our house and lead me into that office, coaxing me with alcohol, and then attack me with doubts, anxiety, fear, and despair. I began masterful at hiding it inside of a large Yeti cup meant to keep me hydrated… instead keeping me anchored to my disease.
2-4 oz. of vodka cut with a large amount of cranberry juice, quickly morphed into a tumbler full of vodka and a hint of cranberry. Suddenly my friend Alcohol wasn’t the relief that it had once been. The anxiety was beginning to overtake the buzz, and I was self-medicating inside a vortex of shame, depression and addiction. I was prescribed Xanax, which, friends, kills a hangover. So instead of feeling the weight of my drinking, I was removing all consequences and setting myself up for an empty highway of alcohol consumption. By lunch I would have the shakes and find a drink. By 2014, I was hearing my words begin to slur even when I felt sober.
I wanted to go to rehab, but the program I’d chosen was 6 months long, and the commitment was too great. For me, the desire to go felt like an action step in and of itself, and it was another 8 months before I took the step that I needed to take to end the tyranny of my addiction. I’m thankful every day that my “rock bottom” was on such elevated ground. Beth is my entire world, and I realized that if I continued to stumble down the rocky path I was on, I would lose that world.
On October 5, 2015, I stepped into my first AA meeting. Naturally, like any diet, I had more than one “last hurrah” feast before I walked in. But the minute I did, it felt like exhaling for the first time in years. Jacques Cousteau spent his life masterfully living in two worlds – above and under the sea. He felt at home in both, but his truest self was most alive when he was free under the water.
Similarly, I could, in my mind, exist in both sobriety and addiction, but it wasn’t until diving into the waters of my first meeting that I was free. Unencumbered by the weight and burden that addiction was pressing on me. And just like Jacques had to learn to operate his equipment before he could be at home in his aquatic chapel, I had to learn tools to manage and release my anxiety that didn’t include grappling for a handle of booze.
I’m approaching the third anniversary of that first meeting, and I think often about the life that I’ve lived between those three years. I also reflect on the day that I tried to cut myself off from experiencing any of them. I would turned off The Wizard of Oz before Dorothy experienced Technicolor. But more than that, I tried to “unsubscribe” from the life that God has specifically and purposefully laid out for me.
I’m still a work in progress, and I will be until I’m laid to rest. There are still long stretches of my memory associated with stress and pain, that I seem to have opted out of. Periods of blank spaces. But now, I trust the higher power who sculpted my lungs and refused to stop them when I tried to. I know that the story He has written for my life, can’t be overwritten by the pain I have walked through or the pain that I have caused. I know that while addiction could be considered a “manufacturing failure” if we were just robots rolling off a line, it has become a launchpad for me to help others. And I’m standing here aware of every beat of my heart, welcoming it, joy, pain, sorrow, hope, because it means I have the opportunity to feel, be, improve and live.