The following is the second excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, The 10 Minute Time Machine – a story of wreckage, renewal, and redemption. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.
Once my mind cleared and my body partially recovered from that final descent into madness, I knew I had to go back into a recovery program. One integrated with the rest of my life as opposed to retreats hidden away from the world. At one time I had done two 30-day stints in a voluntary rehab – which, while immensely beneficial in their way, sheltered me from real life. The funny thing about life, though? Turns out it’s determined to move forward with or without you.
I knew everything needed to be different – there’s a saying (among dozens) in the recovery community that goes “You only have to change one thing, and that’s everything.” One of the first steps I took was seeking out a new mentor – sponsor, in recovery-speak – whom I felt could bridge the gap between “understanding me” (though that can be perilous for an addict, to give one’s self any leeway into the territory of what I like to call “terminal uniqueness”), and calling me on my bullshit. I was given a recommendation months before – while I was still a mess – to speak with a woman whom I’ll herein call Jane. It was during one of the periods I was feigning sobriety (I had legitimately been off alcohol for a bit of time, but nobody knew about the pills), and went to meetings to maintain a facade for my family, ex-wife, and even the recovery community itself. I thought if I outwardly did the right things – such as asking around for a new sponsor without aligning with one – it would help with the guise.
I don’t know why I received this particular recommendation; to an extent cross-gender sponsorship is taboo, so I don’t know what drove the person I asked to suggest Jane. Yet months later when I was legitimately sober, there she was, and I asked to chat. I was about two weeks clean; just long enough to detox sufficiently in mind and body to be scared shitless of what lie ahead. I wasn’t employed, wasn’t permitted to see my kids unsupervised, my bank account was barely solvent, and I had little to no prospects. Above all, I had no idea how I was supposed to live a life I had absolutely no interest in.
Drugs and alcohol had stopped working long ago, at least to the extent of what I was seeking – a blissful release, an escape. I’d still get altered with the right quantity and combination of things, but relief was elusive. More often I’d end up feeling no better than before the chemicals were on board – now feeling just a different kind of dis-ease – but I still felt awful enough without to need them.
Chemicals weren’t doing the job anymore, life had stopped doing the job ages ago, and I couldn’t seem to take myself out the way I wanted to either. That had become the thing, more so than escape or getting high. It had become the remaining M.O. of this trash heap of a life I had squandered. I failed everyone and everything; the constant comment of my youth had become the overarching byline of my life – “He has so much potential, if only he would apply himself.” The only things I had ever applied to were evasion, escape, and dissolution of anything that mattered. My self-destruction was ultimately what I was committed to, and even that wasn’t working the way I needed.
I looked at the sum total of my life – children, ex-wife, parents and family I had irreparably scarred, friends and acquaintances I had deceived, 35 years of a bare-minimum effort just to continue coming off as the good guy with potential. All of it was meaningless. All of it was a fraud. There were people who deserved this life more than I did. Any gifts or potential thrown my way were summarily wasted. I took more than I ever gave. The little I did give amounted to pain. “What version of Jared is going to show up today?” family and colleagues would wonder. Dignity lost. Integrity long ago forsaken. Opportunity squandered. Hearts broken. A life diminished to absolute aimlessness.
I knew I was a force for heartbreak with my loved ones, and beyond my own inability to meet life on its terms, a conviction had grown internally that the best thing I could do for all of them, difficult as the event would be, would be to take myself out of the running. No more heartbreak. No more wondering. No more missed dinners, school concerts, or time with Dad. No more anger. No more regret. No more thinking “give this to someone else, someone who deserves this”, just the giving of it. Whatever cosmic energy was being devoted to keeping my sham of a life going could be spent on someone else. Eventually I would become just a faded memory – albeit a painful one – in the lives of my children and parents, but at least not a source of active devastation.
The only thing that stopped me from taking a more direct, decisive action towards my end was my life insurance. I reasoned that an overdose or organ failure or any combination thereof couldn’t be held against me – horrendous lifestyle choices, sure, but not active suicide. The latter could be held as a reason to deny the nearly million dollar policy to my survivors to clean up debts, and give them a far better life – financially – than I had ever provided with my miserable, squandered years. That was to be my parting gift: that at least the trips abroad, or university graduations, or beautiful weddings I would never be a part of, would be possible in part by my death.
Thus every night – sometimes consciously, other times by habit – had become about fulfilling that aim. To take the right combination of substances that if not giving me mental, emotional, and physical reprieve, would bring my body to the point of incapacity. Where somewhere in sleep (I hoped, anyway, which lets me know these days that while I craved death, somewhere inside I still feared it) my internal hourglass would simply stop. Then days later, after an even longer-than-usual period of disappearance and unresponsiveness, another welfare check would finally ensue and they would find the remains of a life unworthy of being revived. The call everyone expected would finally be placed, and after a time of physically letting go the mess left behind, they could begin to let go the pain that remained.
Dubious as that plan might have been, it still failed, and now I was left with a life I wasn’t sure I wanted, and not an insignificant amount of wreckage to clean up. My biggest fear was no longer my death, it was the thought that one of these times I wouldn’t recover from an overdose: something might snap internally and I’d wind up a prisoner in my own mind and body, confined to a hospital ward or long-term care facility. That to me far exceeded a “fate worse than death” scenario. And now I couldn’t die the way I wished, I couldn’t get high the way I needed, and I certainly hadn’t lived the way I wanted for longer than memory allowed. So while I don’t know that I entered sobriety with a down-on-my-knees willingness to change, I at least entered it with an understanding something had to change.
When I had my first conversation with Jane, I was about as open as I had ever been to at least trying something different. As suspect and disingenuous as this may sound, I had a mentality of “Well, if I have to live, I guess I better figure out how to make it work,” and that was the best I could muster in those early days.
I don’t remember much of our first conversation, beyond a recounting of the months (and by extension, years) that culminated on that February morn. I believe we came up with a plan for the following weeks as it pertained to a schedule around recovery. What I do clearly remember however is a single sentence that Jane said. One that not only encapsulated the scope of my life up to that point, but revolutionized every facet of my experience ever since.
We had known one other casually up to that point; I first attempted recovery almost five years prior and Jane had watched me bounce in and out, relapse and briefly recover. While we hadn’t spent any direct time together that I can recall before that evening, she had observed the way I operated enough to discern the way I thought, and how this showed up in my actions. I knew enough about her to recognize the piercing, often staggeringly accurate insight she had into the people around her, as well as her no nonsense, blisteringly real approach to addiction and recovery. Be it a combination of the corner I had backed my life into and what I witnessed of her own journey, I was entirely open to whatever summations she was going to make about my life, my patterns, my thoughts, my results.
“Jared, I know that you know how to say something eight different ways – depending on who is in the room and who’s listening – so that you can get away with telling the truth, without ever being honest. That changes now.”
Whatever else was said that night has long been lost in the annals of memory, but that one sentence was indelibly written on my mind and heart. I don’t know if I had ever even thought much about the distinction between truth and honesty before then, but Jane had captured it with a lightning strike to the soul.
The beauty – one of many – of reaching an absolute nadir, is it leaves very little to lose. Especially when we are the ultimate reason for the fuck ups. There comes this almost inexplicable (if not suspect) peace in knowing “Hey, you messed this up about as bad as you possibly could, and confronting it likely won’t make it any worse.” Sure, things could always be a little more unpleasant from a superficial perspective, but there exists a mental and emotional depth that seems to level out after a certain point, regardless of external circumstance.
I no longer felt encumbered to admit to myself or others what was really going on. I had lost the hesitation to begin doing all the work (not just the parts I found palatable), thanks to the unsustainability of anything I had tried to that point. Though there might still be a house, or friends, or further trust (if any pockets of that remained anywhere) to lose outwardly, there wasn’t anything left to lose from a soul perspective. I had learned what it was to loathe one’s self and one’s life so much that the best option seemed to be the end of it all. From that perspective, there really is nowhere to go but up. Though as I think about it, perhaps not. I suppose we can move laterally, but at that point it wouldn’t have been anything I hadn’t already taken on.
Taken on, and survived. In spite of myself, I had somehow survived. And for as much as I approached this new, seemingly forced life with a certain measure of dread and scorn, I knew it had to mean something. Even then, I knew there had been grace. And if nothing else, I needed to find out why.
Thanks for dropping by, Dear Reader! Please feel free to follow along as I continue to post excerpts from this, and my novel Of Dreams & Angels. And posts on other random thoughts/experiences that come along. Glad to have you here!