Sitting at the lunch counter with Mase I twirled a straw wrapper between my fingertips and tried not to meet his eyes. “So, I, uh, so I… I relapsed.” He was the first I told in person. The weight of it on my shoulders was released, then quickly replaced as tears came to my eyes and shame moved in. It’d been 36 hours since I sat in an old friend’s apartment with a bottle of bourbon, but I was still having trouble believing it happened.
He didn’t ask me why. He knew why I drank after over three years of sobriety. The only reason anyone ever relapses, I couldn’t find a reason why it mattered if I stayed sober anymore. I couldn’t find it and I didn’t go looking. I didn’t make phone calls. I didn’t go to a meeting. I just gave up and I drank. Another split-second decision that I’d have to pay for.
I didn’t keep drinking. I went to a meeting as soon as I could. I earned my 24 hour chip and then sat in my car sobbing. Not for the things I’d lost, but for the things I am. For the places I keep coming back to. For the selfish, self-serving, and stupid things I find myself doing over and over again. For my carelessness. For my apathy. For my lack of patience. For my passion and stubbornness. For my hurtfulness. For how pointless and hopeless this all feels. For all the things sorrys and sobbing won’t change.
Yet I continue forward. Despite my current inability to see why. Though I feel I don’t deserve it and it doesn’t matter anyway. I climb back up and I put one foot in front of the other and I go looking.
Go looking for something–for anything–that makes this feel a little more manageable. That reminds me I am someone worthy of love and compassion and forgiveness. Which proves I can change and grow. Something that will tell me it doesn’t always come back to this. That I can keep looking. That I will find the reasons and learn to keep them close.
I earned my Associate of Arts at Portland Community College in 2011. Transferred to University of California, Berkeley to work toward a degree in Linguistics. Withdrew three months later for a lot of well-intended reasons, but mostly because I fell in love. Moved to Seattle. Fumbled through a few classes here and there, but ultimately abandoned any dreams of getting my Bachelor’s. Of earning a university degree.
Most of that was because I couldn’t see my own future. Couldn’t see a time when I would need or really want anything enough to spend years working for it. Never imagined I’d be around long enough to earn it anyway. Like most things in life, I just couldn’t motivate myself to care. Depression is sneaky like that. So often it comes wrapped up in apathy.
But lately I’ve been thinking about it again. Not because I’m unhappy with where I am in life right now. I love my job, my partner, my apartment. Not because I feel like I need a degree to feel good about who I am. Not even because I want to make my parents proud. Instead of all the usual reasons, it’s because I really want to learn as much as I can about something. Want to stretch and grow. Want to expand. It’s not the destination, but all the little pieces on the way. The only thing that sounds fascinating from the beginning and truly never ends.
As soon as I realized I understood I’d known what my major is supposed to be since my senior year of high school. When Fred Baumgartner took over my sixth period and changed the way I view an entire subject: mathematics.
After that it was Mark Brosz. Then Bryan Johns. It took three teachers for me to finally get that it wasn’t just a fluke. Some amazing luck that I’d had three people make something seem fascinating. That helped, of course, but the real reason was because I love this subject.
When preparing to go back to school the last time, I brushed up on my pre-calculus for my placement test. I spent hours solving equations for a month and never felt bored or frustrated by it. No matter how hard to figure it always had a solution (even if that solution was undefined). I took graph paper and a textbook on my honeymoon to Hawaii and did math on the beach while my then husband read. I’d never been more content. Haven’t really been since.
Yes, I’m still awful at simple arithmetic. Yes, it probably takes me longer than a lot of people to figure things out. But math makes sense. It makes me happy. It makes me want for a future. And I can’t imagine anything more important than that.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Martinez.
She tells me to write one positive thing a day. A paragraph, a sentence, a page, a word. Tells me to try as hard as I can to flake away the aching and find something beautiful to focus on. Do not let yourself get overrun with hurt. Focus on the good.
Another tells me to let the emotions pass through me. To notice them, give them breath and life, but let them leave again. Do not hold on so tight they control you. Do not let them plant roots. Pain must wash in and out and leave room for good.
In a Twitter message another woman in my life tells me that she has been fragile lately. That she knows I’ve been hurting and she’s been hurting, too. Says she had to protect herself. Tells me about going to a bar and drinking water. Singing karaoke at the top of her lungs. Doing something good.
It’s simple in theory, but hard to remember. I have to lean on those around me to remind me to look for the shiny pieces of life. The ones that make me feel like continuing forward. The ones that makes this whole thing seem like fun. No, it will not cure us. It will not make as bulletproof. But there’s a certain kind of resilience that comes with making sure to notice the good.
So let’s go out. Let’s pretend we forgot how much this is hurting. Let’s wrap ourselves up in vests and raincoats and take to the woods. Let’s undress and lay down on massage tables and melt into the comfort of another set of hands. Let’s make dinner. Sit on the patio and talk at one in the morning. Sleep in. Wake up early and go for a run while it’s still dark out. Let’s find excuses to laugh more and think about all of this less. Got it? Good.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pallian.