No, I'm not secretly referring to myself. I'm still clean and sober.
But my friend and I have been in touch pretty closely for a few days now. I told him he had inspired me to maybe get back to writing here and he said, "Do it."
He recently found himself ripped apart by a personal tornado that almost did him in.
He's in pain.
He's a total mess.
And from his own admission he did this to himself.
Now, I'm kind of assuming a little bit of this as I don't really know the full story. I don't even really know this person that well. He's a contemporary, an associate, a local. But he's a fellow Gen Xer, has great taste in music and art, and he's somebody who's always been quite nice to me.
He's also somebody who I didn't realize had any of the problems he's currently seeking help from. But that's probably more to do with the fact that I don't go to bars and I don't have people over to my place to party (anymore).
But I can assume a lot about this person because of one simple fact: he's a human being.
And I can relate to that.
See, we're built for excess. We, as humans, like to try lots of different things. And if we find something we like (depending on our temperament) we oftentimes have too much of it. And when we have too much of it we can develop a sense of guilt about it, and the only way to make it better in the short term--seeing we're already kind of far into it--is to have a little more.
And then the tornado starts to form and it can assemble itself fairly quickly if we let it.
This cycle is something that seems so ludicrous.
We should be smarter than that.
We're not some kind of wild animal.
We've had millions of years of evolution to finesse our desires so they don't almost kill us.
We should have enough foresight to detect the trouble ahead.
But we're human beings after all, and we have too much freedom.
And I'm not just talking about freedom from the government or freedom from persecution.
I'm talking about how if a human wants to try to eat fifteen double-chocolate chocolate chip cookies and a quart of Newport Creamery maple walnut ice cream we absolutely can. If we want to stay up for three days straight and watch 72 hours of television no matter what is on, we can.
And if we want to drink ourselves stupid with a fifth of vodka every day starting at 9 AM (after waiting outside the liquor store until it opens) and call our mom and try to pretend like we just had two beers on an empty stomach, we can.
I used to do that kind of stuff. I did it almost every day for a few years. And the thing about it that kills me is that I had so many conversations--long ones--with my mother that I don't remember. We talked about so much important stuff and so much silly stuff but so much of it is just a blur. She only really got upset that I was drinking a few times and told me to please not call her when I was "pie eyed", especially at 11 AM.
But when her boy would call she couldn't hang up or tell me to go to hell. Because at least hearing my slurred voice on the other end of the phone was better than not knowing if I was staggering around in traffic trying to make it to the liquor store before it closed. At least hearing me ask the same question over and over again was better than wondering if I was downtown making a fool of myself in broad daylight. At least hearing me try to muffle the sound of the ice clinking against my rocks glass as I brought it up to my lips was better than wondering if I had said the wrong thing to the wrong person and gotten my teeth knocked out.
It was something, at least.
But I had too much freedom and I used to feel invincible.
I thought to myself that my actions had no consequences. I didn't write down the stories she would tell me because I couldn't keep a pen, paper, lit cigarette and phone receiver all going at the same time while pouring glass after glass of freezing cold Smirnoff from the bottle in the freezer into my sour stomach.
As she died over sixteen months I thought I'd remember everything she said to me.
I couldn't have been more mistaken.
I recently found some old recordings of the messages she left for me back in the early 2000s.
There are some cute ones for sure. But I can hear in her voice that hint of worry that only a mother can carry in her tone. Those slight lilts that suggested maybe I was there but didn't want to pick up--that it was okay if I was "busy", it was nothing important. That she was just seeing if I was
These calls were often in the early afternoon and she was still worried that I was wasted.
Lots of time I was. It was a sad situation.
But she was always taking care of me even when I wasn't.
These messages usually ended with a little humor, of course, because if there's one thing this mother of an alcoholic worried about most is that something she said or did will cause her boy to drink even more.
She loved me like no one ever did. And she had no idea what could have possibly been the reason that I was trying to slowly and messily kill myself.
And now, almost seven years later I still don't really know why I did what I did.
I can't blame it on genetics, because nobody in my family, that I know of, was or is an alcoholic.
I can't blame it on growing up without a dad. Lots of people grow up in a single parent home and don't hit the bottom the way I did.
I can't blame it on rock music, as much as I'd like to. That would be so easy and almost fun.
And I can't blame it on how I was raised.
Because I was raised to value the world around me. I was taught that all we can see, hear, touch, taste and feel is worth appreciating. I was shown that science can explain almost everything (Mom was an earth science teacher with a masters in chemistry) and that what can't be explained must be respected for what it is: a miracle.
I was taught to respect the people around me. I was told to learn from those who came before me. I was brought from museums to puppet shows to concerts, plays, and circuses all to better shape my mind and spirit and also to show me what great beauty this world holds.
I was created on purpose--explicitly to be raised by one person and one person alone. She wasn't worried if nobody wanted anything to do with her because she was a single mother in 1970s New England. And as it turned out I was welcomed with open arms by the whole family.
My father was one of the most heralded and applauded authors of poetry and prose of his generation (more on this in the future). He was labeled a genius by his peers, played four instruments and spoke seven languages. When he died his obituary ran from the LA Times to the New York Times to the the Fall River Herald News.
I was not made to be a self-destructive lush; I was made to hopefully be a person of substance.
These are my words. My mother never made me feel like I needed to be any more than I wanted to be. And, in fact, I didn't really learn about my father until much later in life.
Regardless, for twenty years I thumbed my nose at the idea of embracing life, light and vitality and continually pulled the shade down on the world.
And at the end what was I?
I was scared.
I was broke.
I was alone.
I was in pain.
I was a total mess.
And from my own admission I did this to myself.
Well, because I'm a human being and that was my choice. And nobody on earth was going to make me change my ways. I had to want to change. I had to need to change more than anything. I had to fight for change like it was my last hope for survival, because it really was.
And I'm writing these words today and sharing with the world because it's been far too long.
I've spent the last almost seven years on this earth very much aware of my surroundings. I've made my decisions with a clear head. And I can figuratively remember turning the light off at the end of every day.
But I still don't have the best memory and I forget a lot of stuff.
So while it's still fresh in my mind I wanted to stand up here at from where I am on this hill and shout down to my friend to come up and join me.
I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs that things are better up here and I can see them clear as day, even if all he can see is a hill he doesn't think he can climb.
I wanted to tell him that he needs to start now, not tomorrow and not next week.
Because this hill is a beast to get up.
It's a muddy, slick and rocky mess of a journey.
It's not easy and it's not fun and there are no breaks to sit and catch your breath . . . at least not for a while.
But as you start to climb you'll notice something: you'll notice that things below you--where you just came from--have gotten smaller.
You'll start to find better places to grip with your hands and landings to anchor your feet.
When you get up to a certain point you'll no doubt be able to take a breather and look down for a second. That's when you'll start to see others approach the bottom of this hill with the same expression on their face that you did not that long ago--the one that says "I'm not fucking doing this."
But you will do this.
And you will meet me where I am.
Because you are a human being and you have freedom.
And if you care about this world at all you will use that freedom to keep going and not ever stop, not for a split second.
And with the grace of God, or whatever you want to call the thing or things that made this universe, I will always be here and I'll always be able to help.
I'm just a little ways up the hill, but I'm nowhere near the top.
Just keep going, man.
Thanks for reading.