Emotional Vacancy

Link to picture.

A review of relationships post-addiction.

I’ve heard for most of my life that when you finally quit an addiction, you pick up another. People can drop cigarettes but pick up subconscious eating. It can even be positive. You may stop eating like shit and start working out more. And for a long time, I thought I wasn’t addicted to alcohol anymore. But I need to go back a bit.

I’ll give the cliff notes version of my early twenties. When I was 19, I met a girl while I was away at college. Hindsight would tell me later that it was my first love, and that when she broke up with me, it was my fault. And as that wave of realization crept from my heart to my head, I started to spiral. I started taking antidepressants and, as I turned 21, started to combine the medicine with alcohol. I stopped taking the antidepressants when my prescription ran dry, but the damage had been done. From then to about 24, my life was a sad mixture of drunken nights, confused understanding about what was wrong with me and relationships that I wasn’t ready to be in.

My addiction is insidious, designed particularly for me.

My addiction to alcohol isn’t the one portrayed in television and movies. Some might call me a high-functioning alcoholic. I wasn’t sitting at the bar every night, alone, drinking until I couldn’t see and then waking up to do it all again the next night (although that happened on occasion). My addiction is insidious, designed particularly for me. It is a sickness that crawled into a crevasse in my brain and molded itself to become undetectable, a part of me. I spent so many years wondering what was wrong with me because I couldn’t see it, no matter how long I stared at my reflection.

My addiction is drinking alone in my room when I was at home or in college. It’s drinking to blackout at parties because I’m not comfortable in those situations. And the most dangerous aspect, it’s drinking to blackout in public at crowded bars and clubs. Add in the challenge of getting home after you’re already gone, and it led to a situation where I should have been arrested.

Long story short, I got drunk at a bar. My friends decided to go to another bar that I didn’t want to go to, so I stayed, got more drunk, then tried to leave. I drove around the parking garage, lost on how to leave, until a cop stopped me and realized I was drunk. Somehow, he only took my keys and told me to call my friends to come pick me up.

My friends didn’t answer so I leaned myself against the wall and drifted between consciousness for what felt like hours, at some point throwing up on myself. It was closer to an hour and a half. When my friend finally called me back, he came and picked my keys and I up and I crashed at his place. I only called him because he had been out with me that night. I couldn’t call anyone else because of shame. I couldn’t imagine having that conversation with my parents, or someone who knew better. In that moment, I felt like a peer would be the only person not to judge me. And I’m still ashamed of it today.

I was allowing the darkness to consume me and the demons to run rampant in my mind.

My drinking problem bled into every relationship I tried to pursue. The women never knew, no one did. Or they did and never said anything. Even when I explained to my mom recently about how I struggled with alcohol in the past, she was surprised (I couldn’t go into details). I was leading two lives, one where I was pretending to have my shit together and the drunken mess I had become. And most of the time, I was pretending. At work, when I was with my significant other, any time I wasn’t drinking, I looked the part. I had a decent job despite not having a degree and all seemed to be going according to plan.

But when I drank (which wasn’t every day), I was myself. I’m not addicted to the alcohol, I’m addicted to the escape. The relief it brings to the misery I was experiencing when left to my own devices. I was allowing the darkness to consume me and the demons to run rampant in my mind. I wouldn’t realize it until later, but I was a shell of a person during this time. Or, I was an unaware shell. I would argue there’s still a part of me missing, but I’m more conscious of it.

I was (and may still be to a degree) emotionally vacant. That’s what alcohol took from me. It deadened my senses until I felt nothing. It fed that addiction that had burrowed its way into my brain, allowing it to sustain there, doing nothing but destroy hope. It ensured that no matter what front I put on, my relationships were dead on arrival. I wouldn’t understand why I was hurting people, I would just do things. And this isn’t to give myself an excuse, in fact its the opposite. I own that these were my issues alone. The women I dated in this stretch were phenomenal, and I do believe that, at a different stage, we would have made things work. But I also believe that everyone is in your life at the exact moment they are supposed to be.

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the theory that we all have three loves in our lives, each one for different reasons. For those unfamiliar, the first is said to be young love, the one that is idealistic and comes from fairytales. It looks right. The second love is our tough love. It’s narcissistic, unhealthy and unfair to one or both parties. It’s the love you look back on wishing it had gone right. And the third love is the one we get blindsided by. We never see it coming, and yet it feels right. My 19 year old self experienced the first, and my broken, disheveled 23 year old self experienced the second.

I fought through the surface level issues a few years ago when I started using running as a therapy, but it wasn’t until recently that I’ve started digging deeper. The election in 2016 and the aftermath has kind of forced my hand in dealing with my issues. If 2018 was happening while I was in the middle of my struggles, I don’t know that I would have made it to the other side.

Alcohol has exacerbated a lot of my issues in my life. And only recently have I completely stopped drinking. I’ve found that things like meditation, consistently running, and reading and writing have proven to be just as effective an escape. It’s a process, and we’re all on our own journeys. But becoming conscious of what’s going on within you and how you handle the things that happen to you is so crucial. Unawareness may have led to years of me not being present in the life I was leading. That change in awareness likely saved my life.

Keep Your Headphones Coiled (Sometimes)

A few weeks ago, I went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. You can read about my experience here. Because it was unfamiliar territory, and because there are legit BEARS in the mountains, I went hiking without having my headphones in. I needed to be able to detect threats if needed or be more in tune with my surroundings in case a worst-case-scenario happened.

I’m usually the person that doesn’t go anywhere without headphones. The grocery, walking down the street, even at work if I’m working alone, I’ll have my headphones in. It’s my safe space and my bubble that will usually deter people from trying to disrupt me. So to hike for three hours in the middle of nowhere without headphones was definitely outside my comfort zone.

I won’t rehash my entire experience again, but it ended up being a beautiful experience where I was able to clear my head. Without the constant noise to distract me, I was able to dig deep into some issues that I’ve been having and find answers. And I also was able to think of new things I wanted to investigate or do. It was a great place to find some clarity.

I knew I wanted to try it in the city, where the images aren’t so picturesque and the sounds aren’t so serene.

When I came back to the real world, I knew I wanted to try it in the city, where the images aren’t so picturesque and the sounds aren’t so serene. I wanted to see if I could find that same happiness when the elements weren’t in my favor. And while it wasn’t the same experience, the few times I’ve run without headphones since have been beneficial, in most of the same ways.

Make no mistake, headphones are still necessary for me most days. I’m getting back into running shape, which means the majority of my miles are arduous and painful. And the podcasts or music that I like to listen to are a big help toward getting me to the end of my miles for the day. But every once in a while, it’s nice to unplug and listen to the silence (or cars) around you.

Ducks on a Pond

Andric Ljubodrag Conceptual Photography

Over the last year and some change, I started meditating every day. Some days were better than others, but I was getting better. My mental health has been a constant struggle in my adult life, and meditating, along with running, had been one of the things that helped.
 
About a week ago, I went hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. It was as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve ever had. And I rode that high for a couple days after coming back to reality, but the past few days have been some of my darkest. Still meditating, still running, but still broken.
 
~~~
 
The other day at work, when my impending reality was starting to settle in, I pulled a quote from a movie from my teenage years out of thin air. I haven’t watched The Replacements in a good ten years or longer. It was a movie I had watched a lot though, so I knew a lot of the high points. In the movie, Keanu Reeves’ character is a washed-up football player who joins up with a bunch of other washed up football players to play professional football when the active players go on strike. It’s a rom-com, and it’s not that great a cinematic achievement. But, I enjoy it, so whatever.
 
The night before the first game, the coach, played by Gene Hackman, talks to Reeves about his nerves. And the quote, which I had never thought about in depth, was this:
 
“Like a duck on a pond. On the surface, everything looks calm, but beneath the water, those little feet are churning a mile a minute.”
 
Now, I’ve heard the positive spin on being a duck on the pond. In work and in life, you’re almost expected to be working on a million things at once and all the while, maintaining a cool attitude about everything.
 
But in dealing with anxiety and depression, it’s the opposite. You’re putting on a front to everyone around you that everything is fine when nothing is fine. Your brain is a thunderstorm. Heavy winds won’t let you focus on anything and just when you’ve forgotten the last one, another lightning strike sends a sharp reminder of whatever will hurt you most. You may smile or laugh. I laughed and joked a lot yesterday with people I don’t agree with in a place I can’t stand. But I got through the day without having to expose myself.
 
Words have always been a much easier method of expression for me, and I don’t mind being vulnerable. I do mind having a deep discussion about what’s going on with me with people who I don’t want to have that connection with. And part of not having that connection with people is that I work in a place that specializes in eroding connectivity: a bar. But I digress…
 
The further along I get into meditation, the more I learn. I’ve learned that I was subconsciously resisting the world around me, and that was why I was unhappy for so many years. I’ve started steps to change that. I’ve learned that continuing to try to fit into the society around me is a moot point because I don’t. I’m unique in a way that few people that I’ve met can understand. I have to be okay with that. And I’ve learned that I have no idea what I’m doing, that none of us truly do. I have no idea what job I want, or what I can do to make a decent living for myself. And I’ve learned that I’m okay with that.
 
I’ve always been the person with a plan. Without a plan, I was wasting time or wasting my life. I was the teenager who dreamt of the “white picket fence” scenario. Marry my high school or college sweetheart, have a couple kids, live in the suburbs, etc. I was being influenced into that by the people around me, the people who had all done that or would later go on to do that. And there’s nothing wrong with that, at all. But it’s not for me.
 
My family is of varying stages of moderate to wealth when it comes to money. I would classify most of them as successful and content. I am the black sheep, for lack of a better term. I don’t fit into any mold that they have laid out, and as much as it alienates me, I don’t want to anymore.
 
~~~
 
I’ve spent the majority of my life feeling out of place. Feeling judged, feeling outcast, the same as most people feel. And I have found a home, a place of belonging and one where I can be around people like me. It’s the pond, with the other ducks.

 

 

 

Hiking To Clarity

Over the course of the past month or so, I’ve been feeling the itch.
We as human beings have an indisputable connection to nature and the earth around us. It’s why our emotions and bodies are bound to the things that happen around us. Our knees may ache when rain is coming, or mercury retrograde (which is on deck until August 19th) may affect our mood. I used to think this all sounded like hippie bullshit until I started listening to my body and mind. But that’s a post for another day.
The itch I get now is to be in nature, amongst the trees and dirt, and as high in the air as I can get. And to solve that itch this time around, I decided to head south to the Appalachian Trail.
Now, I use the outdoors as a mental refresh and some time to think and work through some problems that I may be having. It is 100% my happy place, and I needed some happy.
So, I made my way down to Georgia and, the morning of my hike got up early and started to drive. Now, for some context. I started planning this trip roughly three weeks ago. And even with such a short lead time, I still managed to pick the weekend with thunderstorms predicted in the forecast every day I was there. I’ve hiked (and ran) in rain before, so it doesn’t bother me, but thunderstorms and wind would be different.
AT Drive Path
This was the picture I took of the dirt road up toward the summit of Springer Mountain. As you can see, no rain and the sun started to come out!
As I’m heading up the path toward the parking lot, a couple things started to happen. First, the sun came out and I stopped worrying about the weather. And as the sun started to poke its way through the clouds and trees, I heard a line from Conor Oberst’s song, Artifact #1.
“Life can’t compete with memories that never have to change.”
I knew I was where I was meant to be.
That isn’t to say that we should live in memories, in fact, it’s the opposite. We should be living every day to create those memories, that we can then reflect on when things aren’t going as great. At least, that’s how I interpreted it for myself.
As I made my way to the parking lot, I could feel my restless, monkey mind starting to settle. I meditate every day, and that didn’t hold a candle to how at ease I was during this drive, even with the bumps in the soft dirt below my car. I pulled into the parking lot and got out to breath the fresh air. A dense fog hung over the area and I started up the path. It’s now that I should mention that there were two paths, each heading in different directions. I couldn’t make heads or tails of which way was which, so I headed for the summit of the mountain.
AT Trail
The trail as I headed toward the summit.
As I headed up the path, this wave of emotion washed over me. Not in a way that manifests itself physically, but in my mind. I was walking the same path that Karl Meltzer and Scott Jurek walked, the two fastest known times for completing the trail supported by a crew. While I am more familiar with Jurek and Meltzer, Joe McConaughy and Heather Anderson have the fastest unsupported times, going northbound and southbound respectively. In my life, I had never experienced that level of feeling intimidated by my surroundings.
AT Springer Mountain Summit
Unfortunately, not my picture. It’s very much like what my view was though! Found it on mapio.net.
The summit was a welcome sight. It was beautiful and the sun (which made an off-again, on-again appearance through the day) has come back out and the view was stunning. After a quick picture that ended up being blurry (womp), I kept down the trail.
Now, I’m not a religious person. I grew up Catholic but never got absorbed into the church. And in my early twenties, I would argue that I was somewhere between agnostic and atheist. But in the past few years, I’ve opened my mind up much more and I’m definitely spiritual, though I would be hard-pressed to explain my feelings on it. And I can tell you that hiking on the AT was as close to a spiritual experience as I’ve ever had in my life. The sun shone through the trees, lighting them the way light frames a deity. And as far as I’m concerned, no one can tell me that trees aren’t god-like. It’s unexplainable because it was a new experience for me, but I was surer than ever, in those hours, that we are all one. We are all connected in emotional and physical ways that many of us aren’t tapped into. And this was my first taste of that ethereal space.
I ended up doing ten miles, five out, and five back. The sun paving my way, there were two very distinct things that I noticed. One was the pristine nature of the, well, nature. Once I was a couple miles in, I saw no tracks except my own. Rain had been in the area before I got there, so it wasn’t a surprise. But given the feelings already in my mind about the excursion, I felt like this was once more a sign.
A sign that this space was mine for the moment. That I was allowed that selfish moment of making those few hours all about me. Self-care is a nicer way of saying that you are going to be more selfish. And I was very selfish.
The other thing that stood out to me was a particular stretch of the trail. The path was flat, dark with loose dirt when I heard something. Or rather, didn’t hear anything. I realized that there was no sound outside of my footsteps. I stopped and took it in. The complete and utter silence of being away from everything. And it was the first time I had ever given credence to the idea that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, maybe it doesn’t make a sound.
I love nature, and the clarity it brings to my life. Everything makes sense there. We should all be striving for something that clarifies things for us, and doing it outdoors, close to nature, is a good place to start.