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.
He sleeps in bed as I stay up writing. I can feel my stomach churning over the familiarity of it. Wondering if curling up on the floor and sobbing is what’s next. This is too much like it used to be. But I can catch myself on the edge of it now. Talk myself back down gently. Coax back in the breathing. Anxiety that is bubbling purely out of habit. A reminder that I’ve been scared of showing myself for so long that I don’t remember what it’s like to be seen. Held. And he rubs my head and tells me he doesn’t want my feelings to be ignored for his comfort. He wants me to speak honestly. Radically. Tells me my hurt is never an inconvenience. He asks if I need him and I finally have the nerve to say, “Yes. Please.”
Nadine tells me it’s okay to not know how to be okay. That this, as with everything, takes practice. I learned how to be broken. Became exceptionally good at thinking I needed fixing. That I was secretly unlovable and it was only a matter of time before everyone figured that out. Before those I cared about truly saw me and exited my life accordingly. A lifetime devoted to perpetuating the idea that other people somehow know what they’re doing and that I am doing this all wrong.
Close to midnight a stranger from the Internet parks in front of my duplex. I usher her inside and give her the tour of my new apartment. Pour a glass of water for each of us and go sit on the patio. The warm night air clinging to our shoulders and shrinking the space between us. We live in different worlds. Separated by years and lives of doing it all different. But in this city, on this day we both just needed someone to sit and talk with. Human interaction. A hug. Someone to laugh with about how ridiculous it is that life is so hard to live. A reminder that none of us do this uniquely. That none of us do this alone.
At lunch days later a friend I managed to keep after the divorce asks me if he can tell me a secret. “None of us know what we’re doing. There is no right way to live.” And we talk about how we fumble along and find good people to share it with.
That night I whisper into Andrew’s chest that I’m afraid I’m going to make the same mistakes I made before. That I will get wrapped up in feeling like I’m not enough and eventually exhaust him. Tell him I’m afraid I’ll need more than he can give and he’ll start to feel helpless. I replay every relationship I’ve ever been in. I relive my entire marriage in an instant. But he does not flinch. Just pulls me close and says, “I’m not going to let that happen.” And bit by bit I start to believe him. And bit by bit I start to see myself as the people around me see me. And bit by bit life turns back into an adventure rather than only misery.
Photo courtesy of Samuel Zeller.