It started when I got back. After years of working 12-hour days in the frenzied Silicon Valley of the early 90’s, I thought I’d finally hit the jackpot. The company I worked for went public. My now-ex husband and I had a plan. We’d talked for years about sailing away and leaving it all behind. Beyond talk, sailing and scuba certifications, boat-shopping excursions, and new boat-friends were every-day life.
We did it. Bought the boat, headed out past the Golden Gate, and turned left. Two years later I was flying home from Costa Rica alone because I was afraid for my safety. I still count that adventure among the best things I’ve ever done. Would I do it again? Yes. Without reservation.
The experience changed me. I learned to be present. For the first time in my life the competing narratives in my head were muted. I learned that I loved being outside and that nothing made me happier than 2-weeks anchored in an isolated bay reading, watching the dolphins, diving for clams, hiking, doing boat chores, and watching the cat lolling around in the sun. Yep, there was a boat cat. I also learned that my husband was a mean drunk who was existentially disappointed by the life-long dream he was living.
I think the knowledge that a place of calm and serenity exists in my brain makes it pretty tough to not live there. The boat was 18 years ago. And since then I’ve been on a twisted, up-and-down, roller coaster ride to this place I don’t even have a name for.
I got sober and married a wonderful man. And, for the first time since my first drunk at 14, I felt the tugs of depression and childhood trauma. That’s not to say they weren't there before. I just never had to FEEL them. As a child I dissociated. Later, alcohol and drugs protected me from the pain. Food and television, both great numbing mechanisms for me, don’t squash the pain or self-hatred any more either. I’m stuck here in it. And it’s hell.
I’m just shy of 10 years sober, and I’ve lost my mind. It turns out, the illness that my alcoholism masked is as baffling, cunning and progressive as my addiction. For more than 40 years it’s been gaining steam and biding time, waiting patiently for the alcoholic fog to clear so it could attack. It’s feeling its oats and doing its best to kill me.
I’ve been in treatment for depression since shortly before getting sober. The first few years of sobriety felt pretty good. I thought all the vigorous 12-step work cured me. Looking back, it’s clear my brain was already having its way with me. For the first 10 years of my career I had no trouble getting and succeeding in jobs that I was very well paid for, even though I was drinking myself into a blackout several times a week. In sobriety I struggle. I’ve had 9 jobs in the past 5 years. The average salary of the jobs I’ve gotten has declined more than 60 percent. I’ve been fired twice, forced to take unpaid medical leave, spent about 6-months on unemployment, and am now unable to work at all.
I’m a middle-aged woman in crisis. What a fucking cliché.
I’ve been home for 45 days from a mental health treatment facility 2,000-miles away from home. I spent 30 days in intensive group and one-on-one therapy. I tapered off the psychiatric drugs I was taking and started a new regimen. I cried. I screamed and cried some more. I exhausted myself trying to get better. Now I’m going to a trauma therapist, to my long-term therapist for support, and to my psychiatrist for medication management. And I’m still struggling to get out of bed every day.
I’ve accepted that I can’t work. And my husband, still a great guy, is resentful. I can’t really blame him. We may lose our dream house or run through our retirement savings if I can’t go back to work at some point.(And yes, I hear it. Poor little privileged white girl might lose her dream home.) I know I’m a whiner. Another reason for me to hate myself. Not that I need one. The hate is there, just under the surface all the time, even on the good days. I hate that I’m not the person I want to be, and I feel like I’m running out of time. Fifty one feels too old and too young, somehow both at the same time.
I never thought I’d be one of “those” people. Those people who can’t take care of themselves, pay their bills, go to work, show up on time, punch the clock, put in the time. But I am. I’m spiraling down and I hate myself for dragging my husband down with me. We used to joke about leapfrogging each other with our salaries. A little friendly competition. Now we fight until I break down over how to pay the annual insurance premiums coming due.
If I can’t contribute to life then why am I here? That’s the bottom line, right? Worker bees work. We contribute. We make money and spend it. We keep the wheels turning round and round. I’m just a stick in the spokes of life.
I don’t want to be a stick. I try to fight my brain every day. I do the best I can to show up and work on my recovery. Is that a real thing? Does anyone recover from what I have? I can’t see it. There’s no light at the end of that tunnel. Am I meant to just accept it and lean in? Accept that my life moving from bed to sofa is what’s in store for me until, one way or another, it ends?
My trauma therapist says that even though I can’t see it, there is an “other side” to this thing. If I stick it out I will get better. I told her that I don’t believe her but that I’m willing to go along and do the work anyway. But I’m not really a “take it on blind faith” kind of girl. Some evidence would help. None in sight yet.