I’m nervous. About blogging, I mean. I dipped my toe in these waters a few years back and made a mess, and I’m not keen to do it again.
Not a mess necessarily in terms of content (dubious though some of it was), but in my motivations. I had recently completed my second stint in rehab; we were encouraged to journal and I took to it like a duck to water – to the point where there was strong encouragement to start sharing my thoughts and experiences publicly. I don’t know for certain why that encouragement came, and for several reasons I feel a lot different about my recovery journey now than I did then. As a saying goes (I’m not sure by whom), “One should never get too much credit for simply doing the right thing.” Beyond that, for many moons now I’ve felt I can’t – and ought not – take much (or any) credit at all.
Maybe those well-intentioned first readers thought I had a way with words. Maybe they thought it would help others. And perhaps initially I also hoped for the latter, if not driven more by the former (and my ego). In those early days of blogging maybe it even did help in some small, fleeting way; there was engagement with the posts, and after being told to get a Twitter and Facebook account (up to that time I had spurned anything social media-related), the followership shot up modestly. Even a Hollywood actor (or more likely someone who worked for them) began following – as if that meant anything, although my ego certainly took it to. I received messages from afar about how the words resonated, either from people going through what I had, or those watching a loved one fight their own battles. They said it helped. I hope in some meagre way it did. But mostly it helped feed my need for significance, to fill a void inside that had previously been filled with drugs and alcohol. If there were people along the way who were inspired, that was just a pleasant side-effect of the drugs I really sought: Recognition. Acceptance. A pat on the back for “how well I was doing”.
I shudder now at the thought of whatever I might have written. I no longer know what I did, as after the true crash and burn waiting in the shadows occurred less than a year later, I was sufficiently embarrassed enough to not look back. From a literary perspective there’s a chance I might have strung together some poetic bits of prose here and there, but from a soul perspective it was just another way to perpetuate the fraud. I mean really, how could I hope – let alone claim – to write from a place of authenticity when the entire time I was blasted out of my mind on Valium (or whatever else I could legally get my hands on that wasn’t alcohol), grasping at any kind of external solution to the “god-shaped hole” within?
I began using the blog as a way to air dirty laundry in the names of “vulnerability” and “authenticity”. Perhaps on some level I hoped the writing would help me find my way – as it certainly does in its purest form – to an understanding of who I was, what I experienced, and where I was going. But again, I know now my motives were entirely wrong. I wanted to be famous (if “influencer” was a term back then I probably would have used that). I wanted the benefits of personal development work without having to do the work itself. I wanted to lash out at some of the people and places in my life. I wanted to display the best version of me without having to finish dealing with the actual me within.
When I finally crashed for what I now pray was the last time, one of the first things a mentor said to me was “Jared, I know that you know how to say something eight different ways – depending on who’s in the room and who is listening – so that you can get away with telling the truth, without ever having to be honest.” That one sentence not only summed up my entire life to that point, but it revolutionized my thinking and approach to every situation ever since. I don’t know if I had even considered the distinction between truth and honesty prior, but there it was, neatly summed up in a couple lines. My previous days of blogging – which ostensibly served as a tangible metaphor for my life as a whole – had carried just enough truth to be excusable. Yet as I’ve learned since, when we forfeit our lives, we tend to do so in degrees.
I didn’t go from my first drink to showing up at liquor stores at 10 a.m. with trembling hands and paying in cash to avoid swiping my card (this was before tap!) overnight – it happened in degrees. Nor did I erode my soul in a rapid series of spectacular blowouts (though there were certainly enough of those) – I let it go a few gradations (or degradations, more appropriately) here and there. One compromise of integrity at a time. Every justification in the name of “truth”, or authenticity or vulnerability. We squander our lives in degrees – especially those barely visible to the outside world – in the spaces between truth and honesty. Those spaces might be indiscernible to others, but our souls exist in part to shine a spotlight on them. My spaces became glaring to me, and the light was blinding.
“…so you can get away with telling the truth, without ever having to be honest. That stops today.” And it did. I’ve by no means executed this principle perfectly in the time I’ve been indescribably lucky enough to have since, but it’s always there. Sometimes in whispers, often in those little moments that would make all the difference to affect the quality of life I aspire to. Sometimes in shouts, like that fateful morning when my body finally acquiesced and I thought I was about to surrender those final, irrevocable degrees – literally – in front of my own kids. Either way it remains ever present, and whether in seemingly audible cries or muted tones it’s essentially always saying the same thing: “Herein lies the difference between a soul at war or a soul at peace. You can have the latter, if you mind the details. If you hang onto the degrees.”
And so it’s been a long road back to this keyboard – and a lot of soul-seeking and spirit-building work in between. A hell of a lot of motivation checking, and even more self-honesty about why I’m finally back here.
So why am I here?
Is it for significance? A shot at questionable internet/”influencer” fame? I certainly hope not. Now of course I am human, and much as I try, I do have an ego I’ll never be free from. Moreover, it’s been my experience that even in the most benevolent actions the ego still has a way – like an annoying, un-housebroken younger sibling – of stepping in and saying “Isn’t it awesome how awesome we are?” But I can also tell you that through an endless array of gifts I didn’t even know to hope for – and many more yet I certainly didn’t do anything to deserve – I have some ability these days to at least look for that, to recognize it, and work like hell to change it. To find the honesty, and not just the truth.
Beyond questions of id, ego, and superego, here’s what I know for certain…
The last question James Lipton and Bernard Pivot ask their interviewees is “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”
For me, it’s simple.
“You didn’t waste this.”
It would be nice to say I was merely given a second chance at this life, but in truth I’ve been given many, and until that pivotal February morn I found a way to sabotage and squander every one. Yet here I am. As a friend once said, “I don’t know why I get to be one of the lucky ones”, when so many others wish but won’t. I do know that I don’t want this blessing to have been in vain. If God does exist, I wouldn’t want those words to be “We should have given this to someone else, because you lived only for you. You took but never gave in return. Someone else would have done more, someone else would have given more, someone else would have valued this more. You saw the degrees, but you ignored them. You let us down.”
I do not know why I get to be one of the lucky ones, but I do know I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out and trying to give back what was given to me. And so, I return to the words, because the words – when rooted in honesty and a firm grip on the degree that says we were all meant to be conduits paying forward whatever we were fortunate enough to receive – are what I have. I’m pretty sure at this age I was never meant to repay the universe by curing a terminal illness or launching the next game-changing start-up. For whatever reason I was imbued with a love of language, which for whatever reason was illicitly paired with an extraordinary capacity for self-sabotage. But maybe somewhere in that coupling emerged a greater capacity to learn. A greater chance to communicate. A greater potential to love – from the incredibly broken human I was, to the flawed but evolving person I am today, and the greater self I hope to become – and an equally extraordinary capacity to bring that love to my life and the people I’m lucky enough to have in it.
And through this, maybe – just maybe, if I do this right – there’s a vessel that helps move you to find what’s honest for you. To help move those few degrees toward your better self, to the life you aspire. Just as I cannot take an ounce of credit for the luck and life I’ve been given, I know I have no claim on your journey. My annoying little-brother-ego might attempt to tell me I do (as he pees in the corner and wipes Cheeto-stained hands on the furniture), but I’ve learned too much since those first blog entries to know that simply and irrefutably isn’t so.
All I have are my words, and my experience. Through them I have a chance to give to you pieces of me in the hope you might recognize pieces of yourself, and know what has been possible for me – a life, love, hope and faith that is beyond description or comprehension – exists for you too.
I know I owe the universe a debt I’m unlikely to ever repay, but if somewhere along the way these words somehow give back against the things I took, perhaps there’s hope in balancing the ledger. But even then, that’s not why I’ve returned to the writing. It’s because I hope you’ll be one of the lucky ones too.