Overbearing Emotions

It’s a sad day for many. A massacre occurred at an elementary school in Connecticut in the U.S. Many small children lost their lives, and many brave adults did, too. As soon as I heard, I shut off the news on my computer and limited my intake. I am sensitive to these tragedies, and they have a way of needling into my thoughts and taking center stage.

Despite the measures, I wept for a long while and felt anguish and helplessness. My mind returned again and again to the unbearable loss.

Thankfully, I had an appointment scheduled with my psychiatric nurse practitioner, so I knew I would have an opportunity to discuss my emotions regarding the horrifying news. I arrived early and asked if she’d heard the story. She had.

***

I don’t trust my emotions. I’m unable at times to distinguish how I feel, if anything at all. I’m fighting back tears as I write this, and I don’t know what the tears are for or why I’m fighting.

***

The nurse informed me that people with a mental illness like mine will often repress emotions. “Little incidents,” she said, “that I wouldn’t even spend a split second thinking about become mountainous obstacles in the lives of my bipolar, depressed, and schizophrenic patients.” Due to this, we often shut emotions off only to have them resurface in odd ways.

I found myself pacing my little house several days this past week. On several occasions, I wandered back and forth along a worn path from room to room. When it dawned on me I was walking aimlessly, I didn’t stop. I tried to remember what my thoughts were while pacing, but it was no good. The thoughts had vanished. My memory was faulty. The nurse informed me this was a classic example of repression.

My sleep has been troubled, too. I wake after a few hours and then can’t get back to sleep until several more hours pass.

And there are the dreams. One I call “The Actor’s Nightmare,” in which I find myself on a bare stage where someone is just about to raise the curtain. I don’t know my lines. There is no set. I’m wearing no costume. There are no props or even other performers. No one else is backstage with me, but I can hear people in front of the curtain talking to the audience announcing the beginning of the show. I can’t get their attention to tell them about the emptiness they’re about to expose the audience to. I find a kind of bag full of papers that I begin to fling about so that I can take the empty bag on as a prop.

Emptiness. Lack of control.

There’s the dream of which I only remember the ending. I have lit a cigarette lighter, and I’m inhaling the flame to burn away the rotten parts of me. My lungs are engulfed by the blaze. I have a desperate need to burn what is unworthy.

Self-loathing.

I saw my therapist yesterday, and we discussed the dreams. We talked more about the sexual healing I’ve been working on. She mentioned love.

“How far back do you have to go to an age when you know you were loved?”

“The cradle,” I replied.

She displayed no surprise, but I was. My answer was quick and certain, so we spent time imagining caring for a “baby me.” I held the baby close. I cooed to him. I rocked him. I cuddled him.

We went through the steps of changing a messy diaper, and I got to express love in all circumstances with a baby’s needs.

***

Healing is slow.

***

I cried today for the lost children in Connecticut. My heart aches now for them, but then my heart aches much of the time. I sent out a prayer to whatever it was that set this universe whirling, asking for healing and solace for their families and me.

A cousin’s death

My cousin died in a terrible car wreck today. More than likely, he’d been drinking. It’s very sad. The drinking and the death. He was not yet 50.

My mother said at the end of our conversation that she hoped her sister, my aunt, would take this opportunity to lay down the burden that her son was.

She actually said that.

I have a feeling that’s what I am to my mother. I’m a burden to be endured not a son to be loved.

Ending the death wish

It’s impossible to say when it began, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be dead. I called it different things at different times: not wanting to be here, wanting to disappear, wanting to be invisible, wanting to fly far away, and simply a death wish. There are many reasons for this desire for self-destruction. Chief among them is being gay.

Growing up in a rabidly fundamentalist, evangelical Christian family, I had to endure hours of church each week. Many of the sermons centered around sin and how unworthy we all were, and that we were all hell bound just for being born. Being alive meant that we were doomed to an eternity of damnation and pain.

There was a special place in hell reserved for homosexuals, and it was the worst possible spot. Life for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals was rife with torment, and there was to be no respite in the afterlife. We were subhuman and deserving of ridicule and hate. Why should anyone be nice to us? We’re a plague on society’s morals, after all. We should simply kill ourselves and go to the hell where we belong.

I grew up thinking that. The self-loathing instilled in me is deep. It wants to harm me, and it makes me miserable.

I have recently gone through a period of dangerous, self-destructive behavior, and the simple explanation is that I want to be dead. When I look that desire in the face, I see a self-hatred that wants not just to die but also to suffer and waste away.

I am angry at myself for feeling this way. I am angry at the preachers I grew up hearing who railed against the sin of homosexuality. I am angry at a society that relegates me to second-class status.

I am angry at my parents who told me that I would be cast out of the house if I was gay.

I am sick and tired of wanting to die. I am done with believing that I deserve to suffer and die. I reject the self-hate implanted in me when I was too young to know any better.

As I’ve written before, I’m a recovered alcoholic, and I chose to work the 12 steps on this problem. I recognized it to begin with. I talked to another alcoholic about it and recognized my part in my self-destructive behavior. What may be most important, I got on my knees, told my higher power I was entirely willing to be free of my death wish, and asked for it to be removed.

I don’t know if it’s gone completely, but I have felt calmer the past several days after doing that. I have not engaged in risky behavior, and I don’t have immediate plans to do it again. Only time will tell if there has been a real change.

I’m simply tired of wanting to die. I’ve known for a long time that I have to rid myself of this torture. I want to live. I want to breathe. I want to eat. I want to play. I want to lose myself in the pages of a good book. I want to feel the ocean on my skin. I want to know what it feels like to love myself.

Losses

I’ve had a series of losses over the last two months that have caused me varying degrees of distress. One of my uncles died. We weren’t close in the last decade or two, but as a child, he was a stalwart, kind figure in my life. He was there on fishing, camping, and hunting trips. He is the first of a generation in my family to pass, and so it is filled with special meaning, i.e., that my parents generation are getting old.

A week later, a dear friend of mine died quite unexpectedly. She was a pillar in the local theater community I’m a part of. Her brother came a great distance to see to things, but he was at a loss as to what to do for many of the arrangements. I stepped in and helped by finding a place for the memorial service and by getting some folks together to help with the unenviable task of beginning to sift through her belongings. She stored many of our theater company’s articles at her house, and those had to be removed.

In helping with her house, we discovered a secret world. She was a hoarder, and the house was beyond filthy. In her public life, this friend displayed a degree of verve and vitality. In private, she must have been beset by demons I can only imagine.

In another loss, the summer Shakespeare in the Park was riddled with backstage drama of the worst sort, and it found its way on stage in a most unfortunate way. One of the actors took it upon himself to show his displeasure with some of the shenanigans by sabotaging a scene in a performance. He was fired in the middle of the run. The rest of the run was spent finding replacements for him for certain nights who were willing to walk on stage, script in hand, and play the part.

The friend who died was to have directed a small play I had a role in. An accomplished theater professional volunteered to take her place, but then one of the actors from the three-man show backed out. We found a suitable replacement for him, but then there were problems with rehearsal time at the venue. In a pique of temper, one of the actors had an argument with the new director. It was all too much for the new actor who begged that we postpone, and in the end, we simply cancelled the play.

All of this was topped off by my walking into a door frame, jarring my jaw and causing me to bite down hard on a front tooth. It’s still sore, and I have a real fear that I’ve done permanent damage to it.

Two deaths, two plays gone bad, and tooth trouble made for a summer not to repeat. I made it through with my sanity intact mainly because of medication and talking openly with my psychiatrist, case worker, and therapist. It’s impossible to say how I would have managed had I not had people in my life I could readily turn to for help. They were there for me in times of trouble.

Burning

I vividly remember the dream. I walked slowly into a forest at night. Dark shadows filled every nook and cranny. No moonlight pierced the canopy of trees.

Trees stood around me. They were old and lonesome, and they beckoned to me to approach. When I did, I realized that each tree was open, baring it’s interior for me to spy.

I approached one to pry into its secret life inside only to discover that it glowed with a raging fire. Smokeless. Hidden. Its soft life was being consumed by a fire burning from the inside out.

The next tree held the same secret fire eating away its life. The fire glowed, and bits of ash formed and fell, and the shell of life thinned.

And the next tree revealed the same.

And the next.

Until I was left looking at my own hands that glowed with the same internal fire. My skin blackened and turned to ash and flaked away. My flesh being consumed from the inside by a mad fire daring to escape.

Life in Hell

I lived in hell for too many years to count. All right, it was somewhere between 16 to 18 years. The hell centered around alcohol, preferably gin. I might start the evening with beer or wine, but it was gin–Bombay Gin–that I poured for myself over and over. I kept it in the refrigerator so that I never needed to add ice, which just took up room in the glass that could be better occupied by gin.

I drank for one simple reason: to numb the pain. It never worked. Not once. The alcohol would warm my blood and muddle my brain, but I was still miserable even drunk. I still loathed my self, my homosexuality, my mediocrity, my looks, my job, my lying, my relationships. Everything.

And I woke up every morning for years wanting to die. The first thought that would enter my head before I opened my eyes would be that I wished to be dead. I don’t know how many years it lasted, but it was easily decades. I hated myself. I hated you. I hated the world. Everything.

And I wanted to be dead. I have a vivid memory of lying on my bed one day with the usual thoughts of death rolling around in my head. Suddenly, I had an incredible flash of inspiration of just what it’s like to be dead. I was in a coffin. I pictured my body mouldering and decaying and wasting away. The skin was stretched tight across my bones. I was rigid and putrefying. Mostly, I was aware that there was no air. The image is still real for me many years later though it took only a second to see it all.

Some time in that last 10 years of my drinking, I grew aware that there was a sound underneath all my thoughts. It was a crying, a low heaving as happens when you gasp for air as you cry continuously. The sound was present always. I could be in the middle of a conversation or reading or at the movies, and it would creep into my forethought. Crying.

Gin never stopped it. In fact, gin exacerbated it. When I was drunk, the crying was at the forefront of my brain. It was scratching at the inside of my skull trying to get out.

There came a time when the crying grew to sobbing, and I tried pouring more gin on top of it to shut it up. It sobbed, because I was gay and doomed to die and go to hell. It sobbed, because, knowing that, I got married, hoping to cure my sexuality and save myself from hell. There was sobbing in my brain for the children I fathered who would never have the right kind of dad. The sobbing was with me at all times and in all places.

There was no escape, and the beer and wine and gin and whiskey never gave me freedom from it nor the death I dreamed of. The alcohol just gave me more misery.

I can still remember the day the sobbing changed. I was driving, and I realized that there was a screaming inside my head. There were no more tears. There was gut wrenching anguish, and the only way my body knew to deal with it was to scream. There were no words to describe my fear at the change. There were only more bottles to try to alleviate it.

My self-loathing grew exponentially, and my alcohol consumption grew, too. Until, the scream became a howling, and when that was not enough, the howling became the wail of the banshee.

Nothing worked. I drunkenly threw myself at my wife for sexual satisfaction while fantasizing about men. I tried harder at work to succeed only to fail at an attempted promotion. I played at being dad when it didn’t interfere with my drinking.

The drinking was daily. I drank the cooking wine once when we ran out of other stuff. I did run out one night and got to the store too late. I still remember the look of pity on the cashier’s face as she told me they were closed.

On May 1, 1999, I drank everything in the house. That was an entire bottle of tequila. I hated the stuff, but it’s all there was in the house. There was 3/4 of an opened 2 liter bottle of wine, and there was a 12 pack of beer. I drank it all.

I remember like it was yesterday going to the refrigerator to get more beer and finding it all gone. There was none left. I’d drunk everything alcoholic in the house, so I went to bed.

The next morning was the usual hell of a hangover. I opened the refrigerator while I was waiting for the coffee to brew, and there staring at me from the top shelf were two beers.

Two beers.

The picture of the empty fridge flashed across my mind, and then it hit me. I’d been so drunk the night before that I hadn’t even been able to see booze. I knew in that same instant that I was going to die, if something didn’t change. In the next instant, I knew that I was going to make sure I died, if something didn’t change.

That was the morning of May 2, 1999, and I haven’t had a drink since. Instead, I found A.A.

More of that journey later.