Adult life is to be in a constant flux between terror and purpose. Purpose, at least, temporarily blocks the sense of dread you feel when you sit quietly in the morning. I hate that feeling. It’s like I’m scared of something, but I don’t know what. The monsters of my childhood have vacated my bedroom closet and there no longer is a lurking presence waiting patiently under my bed to grab me. There is an emptiness I can’t explain; it feels like dread. This feeling seems rather mysterious considering how full my life is; full of good things and good people…love.
It feels as if I’m anticipating a loss. I’m holding on, gipping the arms of my chair with white knuckles. Things are wonderful, and I should be grateful, but I know that the universe just won’t let me alone forever.
“Hey, you over there with that satisfied grin on your face. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you. I’ll get to you momentarily.”
That’s the kind of conversations you have with yourself when you tend to anthropomorphize “the universe.” I’m fond of saying that there is no moral consciousness in nature. Nature just is. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from my defaulting to primitive notions. Animism seems to be my out-of-the-box setting. I see signs and portents where there are none. I drive my humanist friends crazy.
I think this feeling is called grief. My best friend Karen tells me that I have a problem facing loss. My anger and grief are one. I think this is true. I’ve avoided getting even a pet – not so much as a hamster or goldfish – because I don’t want to outlive them. Dogs are especially problematic. I have two of them now. Both are getting older. One has an enlarged heart and the other has lumps on her breasts that need to be surgically removed. So far, the tumors haven’t metastasized to her lungs…as far as the vet could tell from the X-rays anyway. The doctor assures us that these types of tumors are almost always cancerous. Always something threatening your life or the life of someone you love. I know that death is part of the lifecycle and I need to learn to accept it. Intellectually I do. Emotionally, spiritually it’s too much. Many days I’d rather be dead and out of reach from grief. I’ve missed a lot of life this way.
I’m still reeling over the loss of a friend’s dog that we fostered. We were the ones that had to have her euthanized. I’m not ready to deal with it again. I’m no sure I’m even over the loss of my childhood pets. I was denied the chance to say good bye to my first dog, a Maltese Pekinese mix my parents named Tammy. One afternoon in Middle school she was just whisked away. I loved her. I’m not sure I even cried over her loss. It happened so fast. One moment there was this warm, playful presence in my life that loved sleeping next to me on my pillow or chasing after the tennis ball, the next moment that presence was gone.
You can only outrun your grief for so long. Eventually it catches up to you if you haven’t already drunk, eaten or fucked yourself into oblivion. If you live long enough you can die of heart disease – a massive coronary at fifty as you walk from your car to your office. If you’re brave enough, suicide.
Heart attacks scare me. I’ve witnessed enough of them. The shooting pain and the blue lips as you clutch your chest falling to the floor. The acrid smell from the sudden stream of urine as you wet your pants in front of your colleagues. No thank you. I’d rather die by my own choice given the chance.
I think I might choose suicide. I’m sure I’m what is called a “jumper.” I used to drive out to the Aurora bridge and walk to the midpoint. Several times I tried to get the nerve to jump. Years later while living in Salem, Oregon I would walk to the train crossing, getting as close as I could to the passing train. Sometimes I would stand on the track facing the oncoming train with my eyes closed and arms stretched out as if being crucified or welcoming death into my open embrace, then stepping off at the last moment. I would still rather jump – I think. Every time I move to a new town I research the best places to leap to your death. I want to feel the free fall into oblivion, watch my life flash before my eyes as I fall into darkness. My only fear is that it death might not be as instantaneous as hoped for. I want to avoid pain altogether.
I feel sorry for the person that might have to clean up after me. I’m told that I share this in common with woman suicides. Men, typically blow their brains out everywhere and don’t give a shit what others must deal with. I worry about other people. I think that is why I’m still alive today. I eventually stopped going down to the train crossing because I realized that It might not be psychologically beneficial for the engineer to deal with a dead human being splattered across his engine like a bug.
So, I’m left with life and grief.
This is step one work right here. I am powerless, not just over my use of alcohol, but of everything.
“Relax,” advises a pop-Buddhist bumper sticker, “Nothing is under your control.”
“Relax,” advises a pop-Buddhist bumper sticker, “Nothing is under your control.”
And five- pound bags of M&Ms.
I feel nauseous. Even after giving up everything, but the Effexor and Xanax. I’ve tried weaning myself off the meds, but the side effects are a bitch. You must do it very slowly and very carefully. They also keep me going over to the dark side completely. Sigh. So, my chemical romance will continue.
I tried filling the emptiness with religion when I was a young man. I went as far as to consider joining a Franciscan order. The simple spirituality of Francis of Assisi always appealed to me. The young priest assigned to me during the initial stages could tell that I was really running from life. So, religious life was probably not the best solution. That was the first time I felt abandoned by the Catholic church.
To his credit my spiritual director knew a disaster when he saw one coming. He just didn’t have any other recommendations for me. The prayers of others suck and do nothing. The second abandonment occurred when I was homeless in the Midwest in my early thirties. That’s a story for another time.
I felt adrift and cut off from everything.
That’s where the bourbon came in. Sex too. Although, I tended to get attached to the women in my life and felt worse when the relationships were over. Sometimes suicidal. I am not built for the casual sex lifestyle. My one and only one-night stand lasted two years. I was utterly clueless when it came to relationships and women. It was better to stick with bourbon.
My twenties were awful. Failed marriage, alcoholism, failed business and crushing tax debt and obesity. I’m fifty- one now. I’ve climbed out of those holes and out of others as well. The sense of dread is still with me. I’ve done therapy, 12-Step programs, meditation and generally tried pursuing a spiritual life.
I still have the dread,
I’m going to call bullshit on spirituality.
Before you suggest yoga, I practiced Iyengar yoga for close to eleven years. It helped with flexibility, but little else. Ten minutes into a ninety-minute class I was bored out of my fucking mind. Frankly, for Americans, Yoga is the McDonalds of spirituality. We do it often for the most superficial of reasons – it’s part of our physical culture of health and beauty. These non-yogis are not spiritual, but they think they are.
Even those people who claim spirituality, their yoga is such an awful new age blend of supercilious nonsense. We’re squandering the gift of Vedanta and don’t even know it. My home practice was daily. In eleven years I only missed one day due to sickness. Seriously. I was very obsessive about it. So obsessive that the benefit I was receiving was questionable. I wouldn’t do anything else if it was going to interfere with my practice. No wonder I eventually hurt myself. I, too, was doing it for the incorrect reasons.
My yoga practice consumed so much of my life. Then one day I hurt my lower back. I’m not sure what happened. I can still do backbends, bow, cobra, camel pose and a full backbend from the floor now and again. Gone is my ability to due forward bends, twists or most standing poses. Maybe some-day I can resume. Periodically, I try to do a few minutes, but my back protests. Perhaps, it’s good to get away from yoga.
This is a loss too. It feels like the last eleven years was for nothing. I’m feeling sad.
This might be “The Universe” again telling me to fuck off or maybe, “wake up asshole.”
Here is what I think “The Universe” is telling me.
“Let go. You hold on to everything so tight. Open your eyes to what is in front of you.”
I’m one of seven billion people. That’s a lot of people. What makes me think I’m so damn special?
Everyone must deal with loss. Stop trying to white knuckle your way though it. Stop trying to brace yourself for loss because you will lose out on the good that is all around you. The people and the pets will all slip past you before you had a chance to even appreciate their presence and enjoy their company. You don’t need to be spiritual. Loving and appreciating life, even the darkness, is being spiritual. If you choose to call it that. I think I might.
The dread? Maybe it is nothing more than neurochemistry imbalances that I’m giving undeserved spiritual import too. It’s something that I just need to live with. Purpose is good. Find a purpose and relax, nothing is under my control.
Al-Anon has a pamphlet titled, “When I got busy, I got better.”
To do is to be and not the other way around. My existence precedes any experience of essence. Thank you, Sartre. I’m starting to understand why the Buddha discouraged what he deemed idle metaphysical speculation. Subjectivity is not enlightenment.
Bourbon, sex and M&M’s is avoiding this healthy kind of busy. So is not having pets. I’m built for love. Yet, love requires courage. I will have to face loss. I will have to face the heartbreaks, disappointments and betrayals that are a part of love. No love is perfect because life is not perfect. This is the courage needed. Life is hard. Forget the positivity assholes. Pain is a part of living. It comes with love. It comes with joy.
I’m beginning to understand that not facing loss is ingratitude towards what I’ve lost. Martín Prechtel, The Smell of Rain on Dust, has taught me that to grieve is to praise what you have lost. To lose yourself in grief and tears is to sing a love song to what is no longer with you, but in some way always will be there in your life. First, you must grieve if you’re to keep that gift.
Tears used to come so much easier to me.
When was the last time I cried; cried before I accepted the sick cultural norm that men shouldn’t cry?
There are only three major male archetypes allowed in the West: the silent Stoic, the smart ass and the bellicose man-child. Not one of them cries. No wonder we drink and work ourselves to death. What choices do we have? I’m the smart ass. Some have called me a pussy. I make awful, angry cynical jokes. I need to transform this to the philosophical humor of the self-actualized man. I’m not there.
I feel this stream of consciousness is coming to an end. I’m not through, exactly. I’m just bereft of the necessary words because I’m bereft of insight. I leave you hanging, because I’m hanging – hanging over a dark abyss trying to stay calm and waiting for inspiration. Should I let go? Should I trust that something will catch me? Maybe, I should just cry. I’ve avoided funerals – my father, my grandmother – I have yet to grieve these loses though I feel them profoundly.
How do you cry?