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.