On Depression, Alcoholism and Surviving
In 2003 I went to a therapist a few times. He told me that depression is really about anger that’s turned inside out. I think that is bullshit. For me depression is a pain that no matter how hard I try to get past, it always lingers. It is not my constant. It does not control me. It is just pain that shows it self once in a while. At times it can be almost unbearable. I’ve grown to accept it. I’ve grown to know that on my worst days, it gets better. I’ve grown stronger. I’ve survived.
As long as I can remember I have dealt with bouts of depression. From the time I was a preteen, the thought of suicide lurked in the back of my mind, and unhappiness was something that I was still learning about.
When I was younger I thought that by this point in my life I would have either killed myself or gotten over this shit. Im thirty years old, happily married and my wife and I recently celebrated the birth of our second child. I have job security, make decent money, own a home and have a current model year car. Yet out of nowhere depression creeps up on me.
My family was kind of fucked up, most of the fuckedupness revolving around my oldest brother. A memory that gets stuck to my mind is when my oldest brother was caught smoking weed in our basement on my 13th birthday. My parents spent the day pissed off at him rather than celebrating my birthday. That was just the beginning of his long downward spiral of ripping our family to shreds and destroying everything and everyone in the path.
I was struck full force by this vacuum of anger and raw emotion in my family. I am 4 years younger than my brother, this all happened during the most pivotal time of my life while I was just beginning to grow as a person. It made me decide at a really young age that I would be straight edge and not go near any of the shit that sent him into this spiral. It made me feel unloved by my family because so much emotional focus and energy was put on him that I had no one to turn to and had never learned to talk about my feelings.
It made me feel like I was wrong for feeling. When I was 15 my brother tried to kill himself. It was a dramaful suicide attempt that actually left him being committed to a psych ward. My mom asked me not to tell anyone about it, because of the shame I guess. I had to just bury all of this emotion and move on.
My parents did all that they could for my brother. My mom voluntarily got him out of the hospital. He was home. Unstable. Just down the hall. I was full of emotion. Just burying myself. Just escaping at any opportunity. There were a lot of nights when I was 15–16 that I was out until 5–6am. Riding bikes. Just escaping. Just wanting to be away from it all.
Things at home didn’t get better any time soon(they never did) by the time I was 17 I knew that I had to move far away as soon as I graduated high school. I came up for air once in a while, but I really don’t remember much from this time period in my life aside from the big moments. I worked two jobs, rode bikes, went to school and kept my head down.
Either shortly before or shortly after I turned 17 my brother and I got into a shouting match. It ended when he told me. that if I was so pissed off, I should punch him in the face, and he turned a cheek. I hit him with all my might. I broke a finger. A few weeks later, the night before Mother’s Day, I got home late and decided to work on my Mother’s Day gift. My brother arrived home wasted out of his mind at 3am. He told me he remembered that I punched him, and how much it hurt. And with an insane look in his eyes, that he was going to kill me.
I didn’t hesitate in running for the phone and calling 911 while running up the stairs to my parents room. He ripped the phone jack out of the wall.
The police called back quickly. My mom tried to explain that it was a misunderstanding. Something that I couldn’t allow. The police arrived. I had a restraining order the next week. He was finally barred from our house. From our family.
I just about exploded on the inside. There was no joy. It was just the cumulative failure of family. There were a lot of days and nights that I wish I would have just given him a knife. Get it over with. But I held on.
After finishing high school I was set to move away. Before I could get away, I tried to kill myself and am left with a scar on my wrist as a reminder. I didn’t cut deep enough and stopped myself before doing any ‘real’ damage. I kept it a secret. I didn’t get stitches, opting instead to just put some butterfly bandaids on it and start wearing long sleeves everyday(it was the middle of August). Somehow, I managed to keep my wound out of sight of almost everyone around me. I think at the time I may have told a friend or two, but really, I just did a great job of hiding.
Away at school my demons followed me. I was torn up on the inside and with my recent family background despised everyone at any party. I wasn’t very much fun to be around and didn’t have much luck making friends. I was just broken. But I held on. I would be hit with a pound of bricks regularly. Was left to my own devices. I survived on sheer will power. No one would have noticed if I was gone.
My schooling lasted only 10 months as it was a short term vocational program. Immediately upon completion I was offered a job across the country. It wasn’t very interesting work. It wasn’t a very interesting location. But it was as far away as I could get. I moved away with only what I could fit in my car. I didn’t have a place to live. I didn’t have any friends or family within 500 miles. I was free.
No body ever tells you that moving across the country is really fucking difficult. I spent the first few months starving myself until I was thin and trying to figure out how to make friends. After 4 months I went home for the holidays. 40 pounds thinner. Happy. In the 10 days of being home I watched my family continue in a spiral as my brother overdosed in my parents bathroom(they let him move home after I left) and it quickly reminded me why I left and how toxic home was to me.
The bouts of depression never went away. I learned to deal with them a bit better. My sense of worth was still pretty low. I could still be gone with little effect on anyone. Yet I still held on. The urge to kill myself wasn’t very strong.
I spent almost two years at the job I moved for. In my last few months, the work place began falling apart and the relationship I had found also began to fall apart. They both collapsed completely within a few days of each other.
I was fortunate to have a few good friends to lean on during this period. I moved back home on moments notice. Leaving behind a friend who I had secretly loved. Hoping that we could make something work. Just knowing that I needed to see what was next for me.
I took a month off before getting serious about finding a job. I lived for free with my parents. I don’t remember much of it or where my brother was. I had booked a ticket for the girl to come and visit me and join me at a wedding, but a week prior to it I had cold feet. My life was barely hanging on by a thread and once again I was falling into a pit.
I found work quickly after I began looking for it. Shortly later I moved to New York City. Not long after that I took a hit of lsd and it helped to out things in perspective. I was really fucking happy. More happy than I had ever been before. It wasn’t anything in particular. It was just life. I wanted this life to stick around. I wanted to just be an adult and be done with all of the baggage in my life.
A lot transpired in the next couple of years. I gave in and began drinking. I had a good time. I did whatever I wanted and it always seemed to work out. Until it got boring. Until it was time. That girl and I had kept in touch. We made up. We made plans. She eventually moved to New York to be with me. When she got here,we had both grown into completely new people. Fortunately we grew to be amazingly compatible with one another.
This amazing person was still not enough of a force to battle my demons. Because now, when a bout of depression hit, a few drinks were all that was needed to fend it off. It’s a common story. But you can only fend it off for so long. And more often than not, a few drinks would turn into a few to many. There were days where I wasn’t even hanging on, yet she was.
There came a point when there wasn’t much different between my good days and bad. I would get fucked up just the same.
And then our daughter was born. I was 26. I wasn’t prepared for it. My emotions ran all over the place. I wasn’t the partner that my wife needed. I think she recognized the way it was hitting me. She didn’t give me shit for it. And I drank. And we drank. And times were good and they were bad, made good again with whisky. It went on like this for a few years. Not often with drama between my wife and I. Mostly just me feeling like I was being eaten from the inside.
The idea of quitting drinking was always in the back of my mind. I was stubborn and didn’t need it when I was younger. Why do I need it now? I would give it up for weeks or months at a time, but always planned on going back and jumped back in as hard as ever in the weekends. The depress lurked. It was fended off. Physical activity helped. Pushing through on my worst days helped. Forcing it. Faking it.
The thought of quitting for good still always lurked in the back of my mind. Do I want to be the kind of dad who uses the phrase “I was drunk” as an excuse for anything? Who can be found passed out on the couch on any weekend morning? Who needs to have a beer just because it’s raining on a Sunday?
I decided that is didn’t want to be that person any longer. That I wanted to always be as conscious as possible. So I gave it up. I am just about at the one year threshold without a drink. The hardest part was just gathering the courage to give it up. The first week or two were tough. The first couple of parties were tough. But quickly you realize that there really isn’t much judgement when you aren’t drinking. No one cares.
Did quitting drinking and acting like an adult help my depression? Well. Yes and no. Quitting drinking lead me to a path of being super healthy, and made getting into great shape easy. It helps me be a decent parent(my wife is a great parent. I am just decent.) and helps me be a good husband. But those bouts still come on whenever they please. I just have to remind myself that it isn’t forever. I just have to deal with it. Push through it. Go to work. Play with my kids. Go ride bikes. Live my life. When that fog comes up, I just put on my fog lights, go a little slower and fight my way through it. I know it’s only temporary. I know that what is in the other side is worth the trouble. I know I want to live.
If there is anything I could tell my younger self, it would be to just hold on. Because even on your worst day, a better day is coming soon. Never be ashamed to pack up your shit and leave. A career or mortgage don’t matter very much. A good credit score is worthless if you’re dead.
Don’t be stubborn. Don’t refuse to evolve as a person. There is always room for change. You are constantly growing as a person. And just fucking hold on.