I don’t ever remember feeling like I belonged. To my family, to the 7am AA meeting, to the agency staff, to this theatrical production, to that group of friends. To the porn world. To the teaching profession. To my disease. To my addictions. To my trauma. After working through several therapists I finally sought out a specialist, a Harvard psychiatric nurse, who helped me onto the path of recognizing the hand I had been dealt was wrought with trauma. Yet I continued to talk about my story as though it were just that, a story. I never felt like I even belonged to my own story. In my detachment from my life, from my story, came that uncanny ability to compartmentalize, to act like I belonged when necessary, to prove a point or for survival, but to also quickly tear away one mask in exchange for another when a situation, relationship, scenario required it. How I could strut and fret my hours on the stage, the stage being every waking minute of my life. The first proscenium my bedroom where I was likely sent when in trouble but to which I ultimately sought refuge from a bully of a father and life I could not longer control with childish charm. When the adventure of living in South Africa ended and Buffalo and parental marriage problems fell on us in blizzard proportions, I started living other lives because I could no longer bear to live my own.
Why does this matter all these decades later? Because even after an additional psychiatrist and various treatments and psych-meds were added to my entourage of therapies, I still feel the same as that little kid. I don’t want to live the life I am living. Sometimes the only life I want to live is the one I am reading about in a book. That’s where I have gotten to closest to belonging. In books. The Hardy Boys created an adventure out of 3 years in South Africa. At 6 I started and didn’t stop reading until we returned to the States; somehow the brothers lost their appeal when I was no longer exploring caves with my mother, finding scorpions under rocks or hunting pregnant Pit Vipers whose babies ended up in a jar offering to my 3rd grade science teacher (unappreciated). Then came the grocery store horror books, Stephen King, The Amityville Horror, anything that proved there was a way of living and dying more gruesome than the one I felt I was experiencing. Then came classics, Richard Bach, the Joseph Campbell collection, Jung, and eventually a game I played when going into book stores: the next book I needed to read was already calling my name. I just needed to find it. My life became bearable because of books. Those of you who know me might question how this could be: I’m a happy sorta guy; give good energy, care deeply about people, am a go-getter, dream-maker, goal setter, etc. etc. I learned how to become those things in the books I read, and not being willing to come to terms with my true self, I’ve worn these masks all my life.
So I have minor propensity towards being depressed. See? I’m already rewriting a story I am hoping will be closer to truth than it’s been. I’m an addict and I’ve got some serious depression going on. But luckily I have begun to find a balance somewhere between hanging from the nearest tree limb and knowing I can conquer the world, fulfill my destiny, and forever be happy. It’s a daily struggle to belong to my life. There are so many patterns of behavior ingrained in my head that I am often at a loss as to how I end up where I end up at the end of the day. When these patterns start to emerge, I typically try to pick up a book and just forget who I am. It works for a little while. Sometimes longer than a little while. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I have connected reading books to wanting to write books, wanting to give others the peace I find within pages, to offer an escape from their own lives into the comfort of a life not their own. And wanting to do something desperately which one cannot find the strength, perseverance or determination to do, pretty much sums up this torturous life journey towards grandiosity that inevitably spills me onto the macadam scrapped, bruised, and bleeding. A cycle of depression, balance, optimism, grandiosity, back to hopelessness.
I need to learn how to live my life. When I turned the page of a seemingly innocuous novel I am reading, Amherst by William Nichloson, about the love affair between Emily Dickinson’s married brother and another married woman and about the 21 century writer desirous of capturing the story in a screenplay, I stumbled upon a minor character who, in her suicidal depressive state, is talked into walking through her death by an older mentor. He tells her to describe it, to walk through it, and then to talk about all the issues and traumas of her life and what has happened to them now that she is dead. A simple exercise. With simple intention. To prove that we can die anytime we want to, symbolically, and in doing so, we can eliminate all those haunting issues. If they can disappear with one’s last breathe, why can’t they disappear with a breath that far precedes the last?
Before anyone gets up in arms, let me reassure you there have been years of therapists, professional medical doctors, medications, programs and therapies in my process. I have worked through, starting at a very early age of introspection, why I am the way I am. And I have been stuck in this life the entire time. Haunted by my patterns, by issues, my every cell of memory. This isn’t a “born-again” experience, an attempt to recreate myself in the image of someone else. I want all the pieces of me, I want to BE ME and all the wonderful/fucked up things that means. I want to live this life. Somehow on p. 131 of the book I am reading I have been given a gift, a tool, a suggestion I’ve never heard before. There are plenty of people who have suicidal ideations. I am not the only one. I happen to find a deep spiritual meaning in death, and don’t suggest anyone with thoughts of suicide to “play through” an act of self-destruction. But what I am going to do is try this myself: I might set aside some time to do a meditation (because that is what this is) using creative imagery (creative recovery, right?) to help me eliminate that which I no longer want to carry. I have been defined by those moments, but I know longer want those moments to rule my life and prevent me from living my life. I want to belong to my life; there is no longer room both that which is killing me and that which is begging for life. Will it work? I don’t know. I’m going to give it a try. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to live, heal, grow, and perhaps hide, in these pages before me.