My own dark night of the soul. Without a crisis manager to guide me.
At the age of 22, most of my friends had graduated college and were beginning to wear suits and ties and dress shoes and carry a sleek umbrella when it rained, as they went to work at enviable places like accounting and law firms and growing businesses and established organizations.
I was doing none of those things and felt ostracized and dismissed by my peers and friends and loved ones who had run out of patience with me. I was out of all of my “second chances.”
Hope from others had been displaced with sadness, concern and eventually disgust. Friends were calling my parents telling them I needed help and that they were worried for my safety. One of my old friends had just visited me while he was back in town and saw me in shambles, in a deliberately dark and dank apartment wearing only my dingy robe (ironically decorated with Roman Empire images), as I sat disheveled, unshaven and un-bathed amid a sea of empty vodka, bourbon and beer bottles.
I had squandered my last few jobs and dropped out of college for three consecutive semesters from three different colleges. When my friend asked me what I was going to do next, I joked in my own macabre way that “I was torn between starting my own business and committing suicide.” I laughed through my pain, but he had only a look of concern and sad confusion.
A few days after that, my father came to my apartment late on a rainy Sunday afternoon and knocked furiously on my door. He knew something was very wrong, but I kept the shades drawn, lights out and refused to answer.
Finally, the knocks became kicks at the base of the door. Followed by more knocks that eventually trailed off with a sense of defeat I had come to recognize from others trying to help me. It was my father, a man whose time was precious and I’d always wanted more of; and I finally opened the door and walked outside. The bottom of the door had scuffmarks from his shoes; and my father was in his car, and I got in the passenger side.
I said, “I’ve screwed up, Dad. I’ve really screwed up, and my life is a mess.” My voice cracked, and I looked down dejectedly as I began crying tears of desperation. My father was a man of action who had built Kentucky Fried Chicken, owned the Boston Celtics, and just finished serving a term as Kentucky’s Governor. He wasn’t accustomed to not having a quick answer to solve any problem that faced him. But he was bewildered, too. I remember him saying “we’ll get through it,” and that he would help find a way. He had heard of treatment centers for problems like mine, and maybe that’s what I needed to do. He said, “You are my flesh and blood, and the blood that runs through your veins runs through mine, too. We’ll figure this out. I love you and want to help however I can.”
But, again, there were no quick fixes for how to deal with my problem.
A few weeks after that, I moved back home with my mother, since I was not functional at either work or school and unable to care for myself with the kind of minimal self-care expected of some my age. I was a listless, beleaguered and bewildered soul. Mostly, ironically, confused. I had no idea what was really wrong with me or what next to do. I just knew something was terribly wrong, and I was out of solutions and out of any help from friends or family.
One of the last nights I was in my apartment (an apartment, by the way, that the exterminator who visited routinely once told me was the worst kept apartment of the 4,400 he serviced monthly), I was standing alone in my bedroom trying to come up with a new plan. I looked at the world map hanging above my bed and decided what I needed to do was move.
But this time, not to another city or state, but to an entirely new country. I figured moving to England made the most sense because I didn’t know how to speak any foreign languages; and I had heard they served beer at room temperature there, which would mean I wouldn’t drink as much of it as I did the cold beer in the US. And it further seemed that living in what was called a “flat” instead of an “apartment” sounded more manageable to me.
My only other plan really wasn’t a plan at all, but what I had come to view as a possible way out. I recalled watching a news special several months earlier about Robert F. Kennedy’s son David dying of a drug overdose. His family and friends said it was a “tragedy,” and that David was a talented and good-hearted young man who was misunderstood and gotten into trouble with drugs. David, I imagined, had been in a dark and desperate place and felt there was no way out, much like I was feeling. But in dying, he seemed to have found a way to make his life legacy “tragic,” and an example of “unrealized potential,” rather than a devastating disappointment.
That legacy actually occurred to me as an option I should remember. I don’t think I ever was capable of suicide, but Nietzsche wrote that the option of suicide had gotten many a person through a dark night. I did, at least, understand what he meant by that.
At the most basic level, I decided that my continuing series of bad luck endured in recent years was the cause of me drinking excessively. And that if I could just get a single small break, things would begin to turn around for me. But every turn in my life was not into a brighter corner, but into a darker and more desperate corner.
Turns out, I had it backwards. I had the consistent series of misfortunes because I was drinking excessively. And now, I couldn’t stop, and needed to drink daily just to survive the overwhelming disappointment my life had become.
I wasn’t living, but merely enduring day to day.
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