A man can’t make a place for himself in the sun if he keeps taking refuge under the family tree.
~ Helen Keller
Dark and Stormy Night Beautiful Sunny Day
I’ve set out to write this post so many times its embarrassing. Part of me continues to fight against throwing in the towel because I’m just that stubborn. A larger part of me knows deep down that I struggle the most when I am writing about something that touches close to an area in which I need to work out in my personal life. As frustrating as this feels, I know that the end result is worth my effort. For example, when I wrote the post about my sister’s attempted suicide – it was by far the hardest thing I had ever written. And not because reliving that memory was a painful process, although it was. Instead, the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome during the writing of that post, and again with this one, is that I tend to sabotage the honesty of my message.
It’s as if I charge into uncharted territory, full speed ahead, just to find myself circling back to the beginning, and all before I’ve even realized that I’ve run off course. It’s a defense mechanism that I’ve mastered, and if I am not careful, I begin to tell myself that I have accomplished what I set out to do, when in fact I’ve totally missed my mark.
That’s what I have been struggling with during the writing of this post. In fact, I’d even told myself that this blog entry was complete, and I had intended for it to go live on June 6th. Nevertheless, I must have known deep down that I was not okay with the post as it was, because one last impromptu read-through in the early morning hours provided the clarity that I needed, and I pulled it from the schedule.
So why all the pressure on one insignificant blog post? I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not likely that it would have made much of a difference, one way or the other. Right?
To answer that question you must first know that I was raised by two of the best liars I have ever known. My parents taught me how to view my world through the lens of a false reality. They encouraged an atmosphere where you dealt with the ugly and inconvenient by painting over it with something that looked and sounded attractive and idyllic. Growing up in an environment where such behavior is the norm, it’s been a very difficult habit to shake now that I am an adult. Try as I might, it’s still my natural tendency to ignore the unpleasant and overindulge in moments of satisfaction and comfort. I’ve written about the affects this had on me as a child, and if I can help it, it isn’t something that I ever want to repeat. So, whenever I find myself staring down those bad habits, I feel that it is my responsibility to call myself out on it.
So… all rantings of parental failures and self-sabotage aside, what did any of this have to do with June’s theme of relationships?
In my book- everything.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Even Alice had the luxury of a soft landing, once she reached the bottom of the rabbit hole. I, on the other hand, had managed to work my way too close to the edge, to the point that it was inevitable that I would do anything but slide right back down that thing; and judging by the way that I felt, it was head first, and at full speed. It all seemed unfair, as if I had been tricked into a false sense of security. All the while, being led to the point of the beginning, sitting happy and grinning stupidly. By the time I realized that the straight and narrow road was actually a loop, it was all too late.
October 24th ended just as October 23rd had, with Renee dozing on her side of the bed, and I reading beneath the light of a dim lamp, trying to squeeze one last moment out of the day, before I too began to drift. Had I known that sometime between dawn and midnight everything about my world would change, I’m not sure that I would have so carelessly closed my eyes.
Upon waking the next morning, I could immediately sense a resounding difference from how I typically felt. I remember lying in bed for a moment longer than normal, trying to assess what it meant, all the while knowing that whatever it meant, it didn’t feel right. It was as if I had closed my eyes on October 24th, 2011, and had opened them again on October 25th, 2009. It was as if all of the small steps that I had made to move past my depression, anger, and hurt, had been for nothing. It was almost as if I had not taken those steps at all. Lying in bed that morning, I felt heavy, numb, and lost. It was a feeling that followed me as I dressed for work. It was a feeling that followed me to work, and back home again. Try as I might, I it was a feeling that I could not shake.
Up until that day, I had been writing and posting new blog posts on this website pretty much every day, or every other day. But on October 25th, my ability to write, along with everything else, came to a halt. That night, feeling the need to write something I posted the lyrics to a song. I remember foolishly thinking that perhaps I just had a bad day, and that I would wake up the next day feeling like myself again. But within the first few waking moments of the next morning, I realized how naive a thought that had been.
And so it went, day in and day out. I started to lose hope that things would “go back to normal”. I began to believe that my happiness had only been a byproduct of a false reality, one in which I ignored everything that made me feel hurt, and worthless. Had my previous venture into the realm of therapy been any more positive, I may have attempted to take it up again. But, at the time, it seemed like a huge waste of time. So I went at it in all the wrong ways – I kept it to myself, and battled it alone. I was scared to let Renee know how bad I felt. In 2009, when things had gotten so bad, I could see how much it drained her to fight for me and with me. I didn’t want to drag her down, so whenever she’d ask me what was wrong (because she always knows when something is) I would smile and tell her everything was alright. Eventually, the lie that I was living wedged a barrier between us; and I discovered that the longer I didn’t tell Renee what was truly going on, the less I had to say to her altogether.
One day, a thought planted itself in my head. It was small, and seemingly harmless, like a quiet voice whispering in a large room. In the beginning it was easy to ignore. But as most self-destructive ideas tend to do, it began to grow into something that I could no longer control, as if the voice was now whispering directly into my ear and I had no way of turning it off. Soon, I even began to believe what it told me. She doesn’t love you… She doesn’t like you…. She is miserable with you…. She is better off without you….
That was the point in which I began to view everything differently. Each interaction with Renee became tainted with the belief that she was only enduring our marriage, and barely managing to put up with me, all the while wishing for an escape route. This was not the case, but at the time it was all I could see. It was at this point that I gave up.
The Song on the Radio
It’s strange really, of the few times that I have honestly contemplated suicide, it was usually through an active thought process in which I considered all of my options, sometimes longing for one over the other. This time, however, there was no thought process at all. It wasn’t as if I had come to a fork in the road and of the multiple choices I was presented with, suicide was the most appealing. Instead, it was as if I had no other option. It was as if it was the right thing to do.
I can’t remember the exact details of that particular day, only that I had to take a later lunch than usual. I remember leaving my office and getting into my car. I remember driving down the street in the direction of my house. I remember pulling into the driveway, and into the open garage. I remember watching through the rearview mirror as the garage door shut out the world, certain that it was the last time I would ever see it. I remember feeling cold and alone. I remember wondering how long it would take for the car exhaust to do it’s job. I remember being afraid. Of all these things, the clearest memory I have of that moment was hearing the opening piano rift for Adele’s “Someone Like You” playing on the radio. I can’t remember how long I sat there. I can’t remember if I wrote a note. I can’t remember if it even crossed my mind to pray. I remember closing my eyes and waiting. I remember opening them once again so that I could look at a picture of Renee on my phone. I remember that it was enough to remind me of how much I loved her, and how much she loved me. I remember getting out of the car. I remember opening the garage door and breathing the fresh air. I remember how close I came to the end, all the while no one, absolutely no one, had any idea how I felt.
I don’t blame anyone for not knowing what I was going through. As I said before, I was raised by two of the best liars I’ve ever known. I’m pretty good at it myself if I’m not careful. I build up walls on which I paint attractive pictures on, and then I stand back and call it reality. That’s not to say that I do it intentionally, but it was a coping mechanism for such a long time that if I am not careful, I will instinctually tell myself that everything is okay, when actually its not.
This is evidenced by the following text that I published in a post titled About Autumn on October 21st, just four days before everything came crashing down: …Whatever the case may be I feel more alive now than I ever have before, and it’s a great feeling. It’s been a long journey since those days locked away behind boarded up windows, and it hasn’t been easy. But it’s been worth it. Life is worth it.
So was I being honest? or was I lying when I wrote those words? I think the answer is yes to both questions. I was lying to myself, and although my words were a genuine representation of how I felt on the surface, I was in essence, lying to you as well. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t wake up a changed man on October 25th, although it sure felt that way. I was already depressed – I just didn’t know it. October 25th was just the first day in which I was no longer able to convincingly tell myself otherwise.
An Empty Corner
A couple of weeks ago, I attempted to write a version of this blog post that did not include anything that I have written about so far. I did not wish to share my vulnerability with you. In fact, several weeks ago, I removed the blog post that I published on October 25th, the one containing Lennon’s lyrics, the one in which I could not find my own words to express how I felt. It was reminder of a month I did not wish to remember. It wasn’t until the re-writing of this post, that I realized that removing that piece was evidence that I still try to cover up the parts of my life that I consider to be ugly. So I’ve added it back. I need it there if I’m being totally honest with myself about who I am, and where I have been. If I were to forget any of that, I run the risk of finding myself doing the same things, over and over again.
When I sat down to write for the month of June, I had originally intended to write about my viewpoint on relationships, and the importance of maintaining the right ones and knowing when to disconnect from those that are unhealthy. I intended to write about my viewpoint on this matter, only I was editing out all of the parts that made it from my point of view.
The truth is, I do believe relationships are important. I think my dishonesty, combined with the absence of the right types of healthy relationships, enabled me to get as far as I did, back in October. I will now say what I always intended to say, and that is, it’s important to surround yourself with good people. For some this seems harder to do, for others not so much. I don’t have the magic formula on what makes an acquaintance a friend, or a friend a brother. But what I have learned through personal experience, and as someone who grew up in a dysfunctional home, is that I find myself on the outside looking in more often than not, and I am beginning to think that I have something to do with it.
I have tried like you would not believe to make friends. But here’s another ugly truth for you – I don’t have any. I think there are some people in my life who might take offense to this statement, but when it comes right down to it, those people are in my life because of a social or relational connection. They are friends with Renee, they volunteer at the same events that I do, we attend the same church functions, we work for the same employer, we talk, we laugh – we go our separate ways. They are good people. They are friendly people. But they are not my friends. At the end of the day, I have no one that comes to mind when all I need to do is pick up the phone to talk, or vent, or confide in. My phone bill would argue that I am not the person that comes to mind when others need to do the same. This is, of course, with Renee being the ultimate exception. But I can’t lean on her for everything. There comes a certain point when a person will break, and I don’t want to find that limit.
I think the problem lies within me. I’ve expended so much energy trying to keep the truth of where I’ve been and how I feel under wraps, that all I’ve managed is to become a lesser version of myself. Like my original blog post, I was someone without a personality, or a distinct point of view. A man, stripped of everything that made me into who I am, simply because I was afraid that those things made me different. Because I was tired of not being normal. As a result, I became neither. I was stuck somewhere in the middle. Unable to move, for all of the limitations that I had created for myself. In the end, when what I most needed was a confidant, I was completely alone.
I don’t know why I am afraid to show others who I really am. Perhaps I am just afraid that no one will understand once they’ve seen me in my true form. Perhaps I am afraid that rejection on that level would be too painful to bear. Perhaps I am scared that the only people who I can truly identify with, and could in turn identify with me, are the ones I left behind. The ones who have covered up their hurt with needles and pills. Perhaps, I am afraid that my place in this world is in a seat next to them.
I think this is the predicament that many people, particularly those who grew up in a dysfunctional family, face each day. And not just because we have to work harder to make friends, but because the gap that needs to be filled is that much larger because of the absence of family. Life is already hard, for anyone, with any background. Even with friends and family to back you up, life is just damn hard. But take away family, and suddenly you’re sentenced to go through life without anyone in your corner. No matter how you spin it, it’s a lonely life when you go at it alone.
Relationships are important, as is the managing of those relationships. It’s about knowing when the time is appropriate to cut ties. It’s also about knowing the right moment to ask for help, even though you don’t feel as if someone has the ability to make anything better. You cannot allow yourself to be the judge and jury in your own life. This is what happened to me on October 25th. When my world began to fall apart, I closed the doors and drew the blinds and never let anyone else in. I became reliant on my thoughts, and my thoughts alone. I was the judge and jury, and I got lost in my own head.
Does this make me “better”? Absolutely not. I don’t think it’s possible to “get over” something that doesn’t have a resolution. Am I suicidal? Not today. Today, life is worth fighting for. What I’ve learned through this whole experience, is that I must work hard to remain honest, and that I must allow for truths to be what they are. I cannot allow myself to shut out the world. Instead, I must welcome it into my life. I must always be willing to face true rejection in order to finally experience true acceptance. I must always remember that the rabbit hole is never that far away, and that it is much easier to find within the solitude of a dishonest mind.