Tuesday, October 11, 2011
THE END OF ALMOST EVERYTHING
I wrote to you a year or so ago and you were nice as all hell to me. Thank you! I told you about my sister and her history of abuse and my desire to kill our stepfather. Not your area of expertise, I know, but I think Dear Abby's dead by now (dear God I hope she is or it's the goddamn apocalypse, finally!) and I liked your funny tv reviews, so why not entrust you with my family's deepest shame? It made sense to me. Also I loved your book and how forgiving you were to your parents. Unless I really misunderstood that shit. Annie Proulx once told me I was a reader of lesser ability. Which made me laugh out loud. So there's that.
Well. At that time, I'd been with my partner for nine years, we were trying to have a baby, I was happily plugging away as a copywriter, and my shit was together. I loved my wife and we had barbecues with our wonderful friends in our beautiful yard. We collected rocks on the beach and were perfectly-matched Scrabble opponents. We drank red wine and loved each other. I thought. Everybody wanted to be us. Including me.
Until last March. We came home from work on a Friday evening to get ready to go to the theatre. The theatre, for Christ's sake. I remember mentioning we should get dressed up because it was opening night, and she said she had to tell me something. I thought maybe she didn't have anything to wear (you know how chicks are) or that her mom wanted to go to Azteca for the 900th time in a row that Sunday. If only.
She told me she wasn't happy and that she was leaving. Shock. Rabbit, if you'd given me a list of a thousand highly unlikely things that could possibly happen in the course of human history, I would have put her leaving me at the bottom of the list. Hundreds of places under her mom agreeing to go out for pho.
Seven months have gone by. Tonight I'm sitting alone in my tiny shitty apartment, watching Paranormal State on Tivo. I still don't know why she left. She said she wasn't happy. That's it. Not happy. She's told all our friends I saw it coming. I didn't. She's living in our house, dating someone she hooked up with on craigslist, being social, being happy.
My life has come to an end. I'm just surviving. I've almost driven off a freeway overpass twice. Only the thought of my little nephew has kept me from killing myself. I'm seeing a shrink and taking a cocktail of meds three times a day. My work life is hell, a constant, harrowing effort to keep from screaming at everyone all the time. I've alienated my best friend because of my anger and negativity. I can't imagine loving or trusting anyone ever again. My sister isn't speaking to me. I don't do my laundry.
Why am I writing this to you? I don't need advice. There's no advice for me. Keep going, exercise, quit drinking, get therapy. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I'm writing to you because I feel so alone, and sending this to you feels like not being alone for half a goddamn hour.
I guess now I can eat whatever I want on Sundays. I can go anywhere and do anything. My life should be a do-over. But I had everything I ever wanted, with the exception of kids, and I'll never get it back again. I'll be 45 next month. There's nowhere I want to go, nothing I want to do. The Vanilla Swiss Almond in my freezer goes untouched. I have no interest in sex, no interest in writing now that I have the time and space. No interest in anything.
I'm going to send this, embarrassed at its needy futility, because not sending it would make my nothing feel like less than nothing. So...sorry about that.
Best to you and Hen and Bunny.
PS Oh shit! And LinkedIn.com somehow sent you an invite from me. Also to my psychiatrist, my therapist from five years ago, the clerk who runs the convenience store in my office building, my landlord from eleven years ago, and a bunch of potential employers I've sent resumes to in the last decade. Among others. Please ignore it.
First of all, I always ignore LinkedIn. I wouldn't worry about the disgrace of that one. Here's when you should worry: your Facebook account is hacked and suddenly your account is asking every single friend of your friends to be your friend (as well as sending strange and embarrassing links and requests to all friends) and when these prospective friends visit your page to see who the fuck you are, you've got multiple postings about being horny, liking midget porn, getting a "vitamin D injection" from your husband, etc. While obviously you have to admire the flair of those who signed up to be your friend in spite of (or because of) these things (130 of them, in my case), there's still that sad sensation that you've just demeaned yourself to thousands of acquaintances and strangers.
Ultimately, this is social media we're talking about. These are the interwebs. Taking them seriously, worrying about the impression you're making there, is tantamount to preferring misery to happiness. Likewise with lingering on Twitter on days when you're allergic to other people and their opinions. Dumb. Might as well just drop acid and hop on a city bus so you can twitch and cough and swallow drily among smelly, indifferent strangers.
My question is, do you want to be on that city bus anyway? Would you like to be happy or would you prefer to live like a zombie, haunting regular people with your rotting flesh and your hunger and your pain?
Why didn't she talk to you, try to figure out how to stay happy within the relationship? Did she try and did she fail? Did she see you as her oppressor? Did she worry that you couldn't handle it? Here's what I think, and it's probably going to sound like the kind of thing you hear from bad parents and bossy therapists who don't love you enough (or can't pretend to empathize even when it's professionally wise to do so), so steel yourself. You say your lady left for no good reason. But she left and you fell apart, and now you say you have no reason to live. Maybe she couldn't see sharing a life with someone who couldn't live without her. I know that's absurd to hear, and I suspect she has her own share of problems, but here we are, and I think you need to hear it. It sounds mean, but it's really not.
Because if this is where you land without her, that means you need to be here. Oh god, now I'm really going to sound punitive, but stay with me: This sliding off the map into hell, taking drugs, seeing therapists, sitting alone in your crappy apartment, haunting your old life like the walking dead, telling people you're miserable and it's all her fault (as I suspect you might be)? This is a giant, potent, delicious, bittersweet gift. A goddamn blessing, it is! Existentially speaking, you should be dancing in the streets and thanking the imaginary gods for this one.
Your happiness with her was unsustainable, because you are unsustainable. She knew that and bailed. Or she sucks. Maybe a little of both.
But let's focus on first principles, here. She doesn't matter. This isn't what your barely-empathizing therapist will say, of course. Professional empathy, bleh. Like cuddling up under a thin blanket of horse shit to keep warm. Yes, I grasp its inherent value, when you have parents with empathy chips missing (goddamn you, Jennifer Aniston, for making this metaphor common fucking usage for me). I am certain that you need the pharmaceuticals right now, too. I'm not shaking all of that off – keep it. I'm just trying to encourage you to disrespect it enough to see the blessedness of this blessed motherfucking catastrophe.
I'm not doing that bad thing where you're supposed to thank the Lord for your cancer here. You don't have cancer. You were the one who was emancipated, from someone who didn't love you enough. How good was that going to feel, once you had a baby? I'll tell you what, having a kid with someone who's indifferent is nothing less than torture. There but for the grace of the imaginary gods go I. Meanwhile, your lady becomes like a prosthetic limb, fucking up your gait, because you depend on her and she's not really there. Don't confuse the whole life you built (garden, theatre, Scrabble, red wine) with that person. She suspected you were an Unhappy Person, either because you are and need to address it, or because she has a simpler, less complex grasp of the tragic nature of existence than you do. Who the fuck cares, really? SHE GONE.
What you have left is what you always had. Scrabble and red wine are easily transplanted. Yes, I know, you're not in the mood. You miss her. You don't feel like breathing anymore. Yes, you're clinically depressed. Oh and also, you've been abandoned by someone you thought was your one salvation from being an unlovable freak for the rest of your life. Isn't that how it feels? She supposedly accepted you and your damage and now she's with other women. Oh, sure, you play the victim sometimes, maybe, um, because you were literally victimized by your demonic stepfather. Some people are better at Scrabble than they are at appreciating the rich landscape of scars left on a terrorized child. So you're negative. Gee, I wonder why you're so fucking negative?
Let's stop right here for a second. Let's talk about American culture, how we feel about negativity and mourning and victimization. How we feel about anger. How we feel about someone in their shitty apartment, not wanting to do anything. The way we look at someone like that and say, "She's a loser, because she's not out there riding her mountain bike and joining match.com and taking a big bite out of the ripe, juicy ass of life with razor-sharp teeth!" You're watching shit on Tivo and your lady is high on life, so obviously you're the asshole.
I don't mean to romanticize your suffering anymore than you already are – actually, let's see, you're not hungry, you don't want to do anything. You're not romanticizing shit. But where you are IS ACTUALLY PERFECTLY ROMANTIC. More romantic than Scrabble and red wine. ANYONE CAN DO THAT! You have been stripped of everything. You are a newborn baby, cold and alone and soiled. You hate everything. (Little known fact: babies love everything, yes, unless they're alone and soiled, and then they would kill you with their bare baby fists if they could.) You feel enraged and also empty. You are bereft, adrift. This is the beginning of your golden age, in other words!
You have just as little as you had before she left, because she wasn't really into you and your story and the richness of what you have to offer, that's very different and very layered and very complex and not for everyone. EVENTUALLY you will find someone who savors these many, many layers that you have to offer, someone who embraces the light and the dark, the good and the bad and the ugly, someone who loves detailed storytelling and loves passionate confusion and even loves deeply held resentments. You will trust and love because it will be obvious that this person was formed from clay in order to appreciate you. YES, IT HAPPENS. And if they disappear, that means you were meant to walk, on bare feet, over coals. Maybe you're in training to become some kind of messiah? A guru? Who the fuck knows? The point is, you haven't met someone who really matches you yet. YOU HAVEN'T, OK? Maybe she seemed that way, but she was pretending. People do that, you know. They like to match our weirdness so they pretend. Again, with Americans: not a very poetic people. Not fully engaged in the beautiful and disturbing folds of existence. We like salty, buttery things. We like smiles and high fives. Sadness, dark pasts, looming complexities? No thanks! It looks delicious, really, but I'll pass!
FUCKING HONKIES, you know?
You're a really good writer, smart, great sense of humor. Just tell your story. I know, millions of people are doing it, how cliché, too much work, too depressed. But this is one path out of total darkness, and if you're ever, in your whole life, going to do this, you're going to do it right now. Make this into your thread of hope, because it's productive and it’ll feel good. You can't just watch TV. You can write a little, then watch TV as reward, though (and you'll enjoy the TV that way). A little work, a little reward. That's all you do. Go read Victor Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning." Yes, you can also just break rocks in the yard. You can dig ditches all day. I'd suggest doing something that's just as hard: writing down your story. It's hard. Write an essay about one part of your hellish past, then write another. I'll read them, if you want.
Oh, and make sure they're way too negative. Lean into the bad shit that no one likes. Write about the fact that no one likes it. Address the things you feel self-conscious about, in the text. This is how you find the good ideas in the mix. You can always go back and pull back on the darkness – that part is easy. You put too much in, in order to find what's there. See, just thinking about this is exciting. I'm excited to read your sloppy, self-pitying work, right now! It's a good first step.
Write down a schedule, right now. Include 2 hours of shit you don't want to do. 1 hour of walking, 1 hour of writing, maybe. Maybe some fucking yoga, with happy people. Blech, poisonous! It'll feel stupid and terrible. You're not even close to being able to do yoga right now! That's overachieving and plus you've always hated yoga. That's why you do it. But I am telling you this: You must do 2 hours of work (outside of your job), that you don't want. Also? ½ hour of talking to someone, anyone. If you have no friends left, write what you would say to someone on an anonymous blog. I would suggest just kissing your best friend's ass and apologizing (even if you don't 100 percent mean it, because Americans demand that we apologize for being what they see as losers. Fuckers! Just do it, though, it's What People Expect) until she/he can stand you again. Then you try to focus on listening to this or that friend talk. Draw them out. It's good for you . Be generous, even though you feel like a shell. You MUST build on whatever shabby relationships you have. You simply must. This is part of your work. So now it's 2.5 hours of work. OK. Outside of the 2.5 hours of work, I want you to indulge in something you vaguely, almost enjoy, like TV, for exactly 1 hour. No more than that. Not three hours of TV, not even on the weekends. Understand? After that, you write in a Gratitude Journal (I know, I know) you write down one or two things you're grateful for: the blanket. The sunrise. The hilariously bitchy yoga instructor. Your sister whom you love even though you're not speaking. The producers of Paranormal State. Something, or a few things. Then, right before bed, I want you reading for 1 hour. If you fall asleep while reading, so be it.
If you need to fill more hours, then you can rent old movies you haven't seen yet,1 per weekend, and you can read more. You can also work more, if you feel like it, but mostly I want to see you doing the minimum every day. That's the important thing.
Now, granted, I know you don't want any of this. But as long as you're miserable, you should accomplish something. And what you don't know yet is that YOU ARE a red hot nugget of pure potential right now. Because you're in extreme pain, but you're not about to die. This is the one time in your life where you can achieve anything under the sun. This is when it happens. Your whole brain can be rerouted, thanks to this trauma. You can start to feel grateful for the darkness, the bad things that have happened, including this abandonment, instead of just feeling muted and vaguely contemptuous. You can own who you are, and discover glorious new paths to happiness, instead of cobbling out a series of distractions and dependencies that will make you feel almost normal (as you have done in the past).
I shouldn't have to say stop drinking, because you know you have to stop drinking.
Write about wanting to drink, if the drinking is a major thing. Just don't drink. And if it's a major thing, then add a weekly visit to AA to your list.
Above and beyond all of that, don't think too much. Don't focus on her. Don't tell yourself that what you're doing is good or bad. Try to be more like a dog. Smell stuff, look at stuff, observe. When your Bad Head does what it does, stop it. Just say: No, not this. Move to something else. It's best not to indulge the Bad Head, except when utilizing it for work or therapy. It's good to learn how to turn the Bad Head off and simply move. Whatever "cause" you want to attribute to your current state, your Bad Head problems existed before and they're chronic. Notice, I am making a distinction here between poetic, emotional appreciation of and romanticizing of darkness, which is about leaning into the experience of living, and a neurotic, torturous, incessant grinding-of-gears. Don't grind your gears. Don't think of solutions or wonder what your ex is doing or conclude that you're fucked or hate yourself. Give up on circular thoughts ("you're doing this wrong, your writing sucks, look at what a failure you are," etc.) and encourage universal feelings ("I feel sick" "My heart is beating fast." "I feel exhausted and disillusioned" "All humans on earth are doomed to suffer."). Tie your feelings to your overall experience, then write it down. If you're just flogging yourself, shut 'er down. Not with drinks, though.
OK, now I have to do my own work. Please follow my very concrete instructions and report back in one week. If any part of my advice sounds like me making the whole thing your fault, because you're bad, because you're damaged? NO. That's your Bad Head talking, that's not me. You're facing a great opportunity, that you helped to create, that's all. You're here because you really need to be here. That's not a stigma, that's you being special, like [Insert Your Favorite Semi-Depressive Artist Name Here]. I have faith in you, Sinking, and I like the cut of your jib, even as it disappears beneath the waves. You were meant to do a lot more with your life, that's all. Some imaginary god recognized that you were hiding away from the world, in your cozy home with your smart-but-not-quite-soulful-enough lady friend, and it wanted to rip you loose and throw you into wilderness, where you'd have to claw your way up a sheer cliff to feel how strong and divine you are. Right now you're laying on the ground, weeping, cold, waiting to decompose. But there is a lot of love for you out there, hanging in the air, waiting for you to breathe it in, to feel it, at last. And that imaginary god is waiting for you, very patiently, and knows that things are about to get interesting.