It’s 5am and I’m sick with a cold. As it usually happens when I’m sick, a truly heart-aching nightmare awoke me. In the dream I was at a place that looked very similar to a much-beloved and ultimately bulldozed shopping mall called Niagara Square. I ran into a very smart ex girlfriend of mine and her husband. It was awkward and painful and felt very, very real. I kept passing her in the isles of this junk store that sold refurbished items. We exchanged pleasant words and seemed to downplay our previous 5 years together for the benefit of her husband. Somewhere in this chance meeting, she broke away from her husband long enough to tell me my hair was thinning and then slipped me a folded note handwritten in pink highlighter on white lined binder paper. There were two pages, and she wrote them specifically for me. As I write this now, the memory of what was on those pages is quickly fading. All I can remember is that it represented a list of grievances she had against me; a list of mistakes I made ending almost a decade ago. I read them after I watched her drive away in a pickup truck. I felt absolute despair for some reason. It wasn’t a pining or anything. It was more of a she’s-right-and-that-sucks kind of thing. I woke up in a pool of sweat and couldn’t fall back asleep until I wrote this down.
Have you ever had the overwhelming and sure feeling that you are on the wrong path in life? Because I hadn’t—until relatively recently. There is no doubt about it for me. Somewhere along the line I diverged from my intended path and carved a new one alone. This loud and persistent feeling strikes me somehow almost daily, but I have learned to squelch them out by sending these feelings to the back of my mind. But every once in a while they come through in my dreams like a sharp and heavy arrow to the heart. I wake up drenched in sweat and have this gut-wrenching feeling that I can only describe as utter homesickness. Except there is no going home—ever. This is the feeling I have, and it never goes away. It only drifts from the front of my mind to the back as directed there by my bruised and fragile consciousness. I don’t know why this happens, but it has been my life for a little while now. Sometimes I wonder if I’m actually alive at all. This new universe I find myself in is not the one I fondly remember. It’s new, dark, and senseless.
I was an alcoholic for 25 years. I’ve been stone-cold sober almost two years now. What have I learned? The answer is a whole hell of a lot, not enough, and nothing. I have new personal insights occur to me several times a month—and I don’t expect these weekly epiphanies to ever end. There’s been a pattern emerging and I’m recognizing it more and more as I log ever-increasing sober time. Becoming self-aware is something I rarely see in people—or at least from what I read online—because I no longer talk to people. Instead, I creep social media and learn about old friends without the risk of being seen and having to engage with them. I have turned off certain messenger services and often just never respond to anyone looking to speak with me. I just don’t have the energy for it. I don’t know what to say. It is not because I dislike anyone. It is because I wasn’t born with social abilities. Those abilities only came to me packaged in single-use bottles; Gummyberry Juice, as it were. And so I don’t know for sure if others are anywhere close to being as true self-aware as I know I am. I remember things differently, and those memories have shrunk—becoming hardened and glossy under the insurmountable weight and the high pressure of time.
I was recently diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. This does not mean I have multiple personalities. It means I constantly struggle with who I am and where I fit in. It is impossible for me to stay with a task or goal for very long. I have cycles that last weeks or months. Sometimes I can last up to two years but then I quickly lose all interest and motivation. Sticking with whatever I’m doing becomes impossible for me. This is very hard to explain to other people who aren’t stricken with this disorder, but this constant dropping of goals feels very much like suddenly being forced to do something terrible against your will and it feels wrong through and through, and so one stops doing it. I feel compelled to quit. The stopping power of these impulses is like enjoying the regular and insignificant task of chopping wood, and then after some time, I suddenly realize I’m not chopping wood at all, I’m chopping the only copies of old family photos. Of course at that point I refuse to continue chopping no matter what—at any cost. Because it feels absolutely wrong. It just hits me one day when I wake up and then it’s done. It doesn’t make sense. It is illogical. I am not chopping memories up, I’m just running a business, or involved in a charity cause, or running an online group, or composing music, or writing a book. There’s no going back to it sometimes because it still feels like it’s wrong, cold, uninviting, sad. Other times, if the draw is powerful enough, the sadness goes away and I’ll come back to it. Sometimes it may take years to cycle back to something. Sometimes I never do it again. Either way, when it runs its course, it is over until my brain or heart or whatever is driving this carcass wants to do it again. This very blog entry is one of these very impulses. I woke up from a nightmare and immediately came down to my basement-fort to write this. I am compelled to. But then it will end and I will not want to write another blog for a while, or I’ll write a dozen of them. Eventually, I will quit it for a while. My last blog entry was 6 moths ago, so there you are. However, this is not the same when it comes to relationships. I have never cheated on a partner and it seems to be the only thing I can keep working at without wishing it to end. I do not know why that is, but I have a hunch it may have something to do with some sort of separation anxiety.
It’s hard to imagine I went 40+ years without knowing I had this disorder, and worse, I didn’t even detect this quitting-pattern in my life. I did not understand this was happening to me. If someone would have told me I had a pattern of quitting everything and living based on random impulses, I would have told them they were crazy. I really had no idea. And I’m sure many crazy people have told me that.
When I was 17, I found alcohol. This made the social tortures of this illness disappear. It was like alcohol was the missing ingredient in my being. It was made just for me. It gave me confidence and seemless social abilities and it completed me. It literally completed me. Until it stopped completing me some time in my mid-30s and turned into a pool of vomit and bad decisions. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t found alcohol, I would have ended myself a long time ago. The social prerequisites required to live on planet Earth were too many and I had none of them to begin with. The cold, lonely existence of not being understood is exceptionally hard for a young man with BPD. The energy required to maintain smalltalk was more than I could ever muster and I couldn’t stand the endless cliches of regular human interaction. It all seemed so… fake. And it is. So I drank every day of my life. All the bad social issues went away for 25 years. Then I quit drinking, and now all those problems are back. Like they never left. I avoid all social gatherings. All of them. I built a studio-basement-fort in my unfinished basement and I sit in it. That’s what I do.
But I want to say what I came here to say. While it seems I’m glorifying alcohol here, I am not. Because here is the worst part about alcohol for me: It makes me a liar and a manipulator. I was neither of these things before alcohol and I am neither of these things after alcohol. But during my years with it, man, was I ever. I spent an average of at least $50 every day to keep up my alcohol intake in order to function like an acceptable human being. This is very hard to justify to anyone, let alone a girlfriend or wife. So after a while, I had to figure out ways of embezzling the money and hiding the evidence. And there was so much evidence, like spent shell casings of an oft-fired prohibited machine gun. When I got sloppy, I said and did whatever I had to in order to downplay it or bury it. I also had to find the money to support this perceived life-sustaining habit. I had to find at least $1500 per month secretly. This was no easy task, and I needed more booze to even have the confidence to pull off these diabolical schemes. Not to mention the amount of drinks needed to stow away the guilt of it all. It was a terrible cycle of bullshit that I am deeply ashamed to say caused many breakups and mislabelling of who I was as a person. I let it go on. I really did not understand who I had become. Because it was all so subtle to me. I never smashed up a car or a person or got a DUI or even faced any real legal troubles in all my years of drinking. I was never violent or made a public spectacle of myself (perhaps online) or caused anyone any real harm. I floated nicely under the radar… or so I thought. After reflecting in my sober years, it seems I was wrong about a lot of things. And I was a terrible specimen of a man. It’s hard to get over that part. I know a butterfly never worries about their time as a caterpillar, but come on. How does one let go?
I wish I could say these things to certain people from my past. To let them know it wasn’t me. But I can’t because it was me. I kept choosing the alcohol for fear they would know I am not the funny, witty, entertaining, talented, intelligent, wise and sparkling veneer I crafted for myself. I was afraid those people wouldn’t like who I really was because even I didn’t know who I was. And ultimately, they would have made the decision to befriend or date me based on drunk Nate and not real Nate. So the ruse would be up. But, as they say, that train has sailed. There is nothing I can do but apologize on a web site no one ever visits. Hoping that maybe one day, people important to me from my past that thought of me as a manipulative asshole will happen upon this blog and might finally get the closure they so deserve.
I am currently as happy as a Borderline Personality Disorder, anxiety-ridden, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Hidradenitis Suppurativa sufferer can be, I suppose. I have a spouse of almost a decade who stuck with me through it all and still takes very good care of me. So I am very lucky in that sense. But the guilt I had deep-sixed into the dark depths of booze has resurfaced, and as it’s been lamented about by so many others before me, it never goes away. I was eventually going to deal with it one day. And that day has come and gone and turned into years of self hatred.
If there was something I could impart to other sufferers of mental disorders who might come across this blog sometime in the distant future, I would say that if you feel the need to self-medicate every single day in order to be who you think others want, don’t. It never works without a hidden cost that will likely be more than you can bear. It’s in the fine-print that you’d rather skip for now and may never read again. It’s far better to be weird and moody and obscure than to be what you think others want from you. Sooner or later you will lose people as a friends, partners, or family members. Because facades are impossible to keep up. No matter who you are or how smart or original you think you might be. I said earlier that I would be dead if it wasn’t for alcohol, but times were different back then. In the early 90s, any mental health issue was perceived as a weakness. Now, though, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, and as a result of constant pressure and awareness-campaigns from mental health professionals and celebrities struggling openly with mental disorders, it is much easier to accept, and there are a plethora of ways to cope. I think very few people have a unique disability these days. This new world of ours is smaller now. There are definitely others who have the exact same issues as you may have. If we find each other by stalking online profiles or reading obscure websites, maybe it can help us feel less isolated—even though that’s what we think we want. We can perhaps all stand united, separately, from our own basement forts.
As for my nightmare, I think it ultimately symbolizes a list of poor choices I made whilst dancing with the devil. It represents lost people, lost possessions, and lost moments—regrets from a wretched lifetime of not knowing who I am and lost opportunities as a result. It represents incomplete tasks and abandoned ideas—what could have been had I but known of my labelled mental illness a long time ago.
What might have been?
For now, I expect I will be forever haunted by the blurry image of a list handwritten in pink highlighter on white lined binder paper, folded up in my pocket. I can’t help but wonder if I will be carrying it with me for the rest of my life
I love every word of this. Every last brave and blazingly honest word.
The prosperity preachers say “Name it and claim it” — the implication being that once the worldly prize is claimed, you may do as your spirit likes with it. The riches you have laid down here are not piled up like the gold doubloons in Scrooge McDuck’s basement fort, but enrich the huge heart that fills your own.
I know you wrote it, but really read it, and then read it again. All you have is time. And there’s always both less and more time than we think, and choices for as long as it lasts.
That was the best personal blog comment I’ve ever read. Thank you so very much for taking the time to read my little ramblings, and for crafting such a well-written and impressive tapestry of both abstract and direct wording that had me reading it more than a dozen times. That was seriously good. So good, in fact, that I urge you to write much more in perhaps your own blog or book or memoir or… well anything! I’d be a fast fan (more than I already am) for life.
I will do as you say. You are a true and dear friend, Bethany. I can’t tell you how great the squiggly markings you assemble into words make me feel. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!