Once my mind is made, nothing else matters. The single-minded sprint towards my fix commences.
Prophetic fantasies have danced through my mind all day. I can taste the beer well before gulping it down. I salivate in anticipation.
The 3rd shift party store employees never ask for my ID anymore. I wonder if they judge me for my nightly beer, eggroll, and ice cream excursions. On the way home I hit up a fast food joint for a twenty dollar run through the drive-through, buying crap I would not dare to touch in my right mind.
By the time I’m home, I am dying to crack open that first beer. I don’t even like beer.
The first can is empty within a minute or two. I move on to the next, engaging in intermissions of binge-eating. My justification is that my gluttony will prevent a hangover. As if I need justification.
I keep swallowing it all down, barely chewing, glugging and chugging, not tasting a thing, zoning out on YouTube and Netflix, distracting every possible sphere of my being. God forbid me getting around to Facebook before passing out. I’ll write inexplicably creepy messages to my friends (usually the girls).
My name is Andrew Hicks, and I am a destructaholic.
But that’s not what people see when they look at me.
I am an ambitious social work student. In a poetic twist (the bad kind of poetry), I specialize in substance misuse treatment. I have a 3.88 GPA. I started a student organization focused on self-empowerment. I intern at a behavioral health agency, reporting to one of the most brilliant pioneers in the local field. I teach yoga, give auricular acupuncture for detox, and hypnotize people to quit smoking. I love my job as a writing tutor.
My students, clients, teachers, and friends are mostly oblivious to my isolated suffering. To the full scope of it anyway. I grapple with my vices in the shadows, the threads of my soul’s tapestry secretly fraying apart, and at this rate I’ll be undone before anyone realizes what has happened.
It wasn’t always like this. It used to be worse. My history is rife with self-abuse. Thousands could drown in the liquor I have consumed, mansions could be built from all the pills. If you were to go back and assess all the pain in my past, you might think I brought it all on myself. That I wanted to hurt. Maybe you’d be right. So then, the real question is why did I want to hurt? That is a single question to which there are many answers. Some are obvious, while others are hidden beneath years of scars and intricately laid self-denial. We’ll explore the answers in future posts. Those answers are keys to doors that my inner saboteur has gone to great lengths to keep locked.
Oh, that inner saboteur and the wars we’ve had. How I’ve tried to subjugate him. And oh, what folly. Inner conflict is adaptive, an evolving virus. I bolster my defenses, build my arsenal, fortify my walls. The inner gremlins redouble their efforts and find another way in. This is the nature of conflict. What gets struck, strikes back. The inner saboteur has always known my every move, because he is me. When I get stronger, he gets stronger. When I hit harder, he hits harder. I encage him as he encages me.
It is beyond futile. It is madness. It is a conflict that can not be assuaged without a major adjustment to internal political policy.
Sometimes the inner saboteur calms down following an epiphany about my past or faulty beliefs, or a revelation about why I am the way I am. Knowledge is power, we say. It can also be abated by the development and practice of new skills and tools, cognitive techniques and even energy work. Application is the key to knowledge’s ignition.
Yet there comes this point when the epiphany wears off. I become desensitized to my own methods. Perhaps I get bored or lazy, or find myself coasting along through the easy times. Putting down my guard. Then the inner saboteur goes for the kill extra hard, to compensate for his downtime. To make me suffer for making him suffer. The essence of vengeance. As Gandhi said, “With an eye for an eye, the whole world goes blind.” I think I use that quote more than anyone. My friends probably get sick of it. It applies to everything, both inter and intrapersonally.
A few months ago I was at the top of my game. It was September, and I was unstoppable.
I was still riding the wave of an inner revelation I’d had in May. I had the self-control of a saint. Okay, maybe not quite, or I would have written a novel and started a business. But I wasn’t drinking or binge eating. I had been on a vegan diet since May and it was treating me well. I dropped over 60 pounds (maybe my self-control was too good). I was exercising regularly, getting stronger and faster. If I stretched just right I could see the vague outline of a pretty mean six pack.
I got engaged in July. Started my dream internship in August, working by the side of a role model who was very forward about his high hopes for me. I also got promoted at my paying job. I basked in respect from colleagues and superiors. For a few minutes there, I felt like a big shot.
Let’s look back in time for context. I dropped out of high school in 1997. Spent the better part of a decade strung out on drugs, and not even the cool kind. My favorite was Robotussin. I had my reasons. I believed I was Jesus a couple times. I knew I needed a change, but even into my late 20s I felt like a loser with no practical skills, nothing to show for my life. Just an army of ex-girlfriends and a long, depressing list of failed employment attempts. At very best, a treasure trove of stories that don’t make sense to anyone in their right mind.
Bouncing back and forth between my parents, homeless a couple times, wandering around like a nomad, ending up living with my grandma. Self-sufficiency? Way out of my league.
So yes, I rejoiced when I finally got my taste of success. I was doing cartwheels in my soul. Real, live self-efficacy. Momentum was skyrocketing. Nothing was going to bring me down.
Welcome to December. It’s the most Decembery December I can remember. The snow this year in Michigan is just ridiculous (or is it just my attitude?). Even more ridiculous is that I have spent the last three months watching my life spiral out of control.
It’s like a dream I once had of a slow motion car accident. The accident happened so slowly that I really felt like I should have been able to control it, but there was nothing I could do. I just had to watch it happen, to ride the crash out.
I noticed clues of my descent right away, back in mid-September, and I took immediate action to correct my course. To no avail. I sunk deeper and deeper, and eventually I slow motion car crashed into the bowels of last week.
It was Thursday, December 12. I has just gotten word that a good friend committed suicide. Not to make her death all about me, but it was one of my lowest points in recent memory. I found myself with a giant trash bag full of empty beer cans in the next room, empty pizza boxes scattered about my floor. Mason jars full of piss. Dirty laundry everywhere. Suicidal thoughts, like the real kind, not just fleeting mirages. I looked up pure dextromethorphan (the active ingredient of Robotussin) online, just to see if it is still as easy to buy as it used to be (thankfully, it isn’t, or I might not be writing this). I haven’t touched DXM in any form since 2009, but I had phantom tastes of it last week. It time traveled from 2009 to dry out my mouth and tighten my throat. I could have choked on it.
Adrift in fantasies of disappearing, of spending all of the money I’ve been saving towards the forthcoming honeymoon. Flying out to some place I’ve never been where no one knows me. Getting a hotel room. Drugging myself into oblivion. Forgetting everything. Game over.
I knew I needed help or I was going to die.
I conceded to the premature end of my academic career and came clean to my internship supervisor, telling him that I was headed for inpatient hospitalization. I said that I was sorry for letting him down. It was like pulling the pin from a grenade and waiting for the explosion, but the boom never came.
He told me he loved me. He told me to get better. Get back to my center, find my core. That we’d do what it takes for me to finish my degree. It wasn’t over.
I am pretty sure that my expectation of it being over-of all my academic bravado being for “nothing”-was part of what had driven me so far into desolation to begin with. My catastrophic thinking had bullied me into the abyss.
I’ve kicked myself around for long enough. The pity party is officially crashed. Time to pull my life together, to get it right, to transcend and to shine awesomely. The alternative is to rot in old patterns. How boorish that would be.
I write from the frontlines, building a recovery program by the seat of my pants.
These words are my machete, hacking through the dense foliage of self-limitations, habitual inclinations and chronic escapism. In realtime. By the time I’m done writing this I will have saved my own life or died trying. Everything’s about to change. Wanna watch?