Having the Guts to Live

I spent a few days at the beginning of this month in the hospital. I’d had a seizure, which has been happening more and more frequently–and usually doesn’t require a hospital visit–but this time I fell hard during the seizure, right into (and ultimately through) a glass-top table in my living room. It’s actually the second time that’s happened to me. I may invest in a wooden coffee table. Or, perhaps I’ll just toss beanbag chairs throughout the room to cushion any future falls.

Anyway. When my doctor came into the room the day after I was admitted, he shook his head and lost his cool. My doctor is usually very patient with me. But I think he’s done watching me kill myself one bad decision at a time. And he told me as much. There was no beating around the bush this time. He told me that because I had come off the meds, my immune system is shot and that body cannot keep up the fight. Nothing I didn’t already know, doc.

So I’ve spent the last week or so doing some serious soul-searching. When I came home from the hospital this past time, I was forced to look at what the hell has been going on in my life. I’m haunted in this house right now and I need to do something about that. I’ve given all the power to those who’ve hurt me and it’s time to take some back. One of the first things I saw when I walked into my living room was a needle lying on the coffee table. I have about 200 hypodermic needles in a box that I had been using to give my dog her insulin before she died not long ago. I hadn’t yet got rid of them and the night before I went back in the hospital I was desperate for a high and considering I’ve been sober for about 6 months and I no longer have a secret stash, I figured I’d improvise. I cooked down some Benadryl I had lying around and was going to inject it. It’s supposed to give you quite the speed high. Really? Is this what it’s come down to? Jesus. I don’t remember why I stopped before I injected it, but the night I got home from the hospital, the syringe was still on the table. I thought of picking it up and placing it against a vein in the crook of my arm. It was just instinct. I’d struggled all day with pain and anxiety. I wanted to be numb. That’s my defense mechanism. Get numb. But if I go back to that now…well, I’m out of chances. This is my last shot. I pushed the plunger and released the liquid into the sink and then I just sat and cried.

I realize I’ve been consumed with self-pity and it’s time to get over it.

A brief non sequitur:

Dante reserved the last and most dire of his nine descending, concentric rings of hell for sinners of betrayal. These were the worst sinners of all, who had the trust of those who loved them yet betrayed that confidence for their own pleasure, their own gain. Like Brutus, Or Cassius, Or Judas with his empty hand full of silver.

As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, with my admittedly superficial understanding, the only sin that Dante missed was self-pity.  I wonder which ring he would have set aside for those who can think of nothing but lost opportunities, of what was done, of what should have been done, and the bleak contemplation of redemption.

Still and all, there is a line, however thin, between self-pity and self-loathing. I consider self-pity to be a weakness of childhood, which can, of course, extend far into those double-digit years. And self-loathing is a much different, more insidious creature. It is the self-imposed curse of those who can conceive all sides of an argument, yet who cannot – or will not – choose to believe there is good in himself.

I wonder when it began. Idly enough, to be sure, because I don’t really care.

And I wonder if I ever really had any sort of judgment with regard to things that can be changed, things that cannot, and whether I ever really knew the difference.

A friend recently gave me a book called Guts by Kristen Johnston and told me I should read it immediately. I love when people are so passionate about their book recommendations. To me, it means that the book moved that person in some way and that’s really all the convincing I need.

I knew who Kristen Johnston was before I picked up the book. I like her because she’s talented and I enjoy her work; I adore her because she’s snarky as hell and that is a characteristic that I admire the hell out of.  Upon completion of her book, I found I love Ms. Johnston for her raw honesty and utter strength. I aspire to those things and so I look to strong women like Kristen Johnston as examples in my sober journey.

To me, the mark of a good book is its ability to make you react viscerally. There were moments of unadulterated hilarity in Guts, times I laughed out loud. And there were many moments where I was left unconsciously shaking my head, shivering, cringing. Her story was utterly relatable. From her childhood stories chronicling her love of Judy Blume books, her tendency to exist as times in her imagination, her penchant for drinking vodka-laced OJ at the local HoJo’s. Those were all things I could relate to. And then there were the bigger themes, of course: the desperation, loneliness, shame, fear, rage. The hopelessness known so well by all addicts.

The line in the book that is kicking around my head as I write this reads thusly: “…despite years of slowly killing myself, all I wanted, with more passion and ferocity than I’d ever wanted anything else in my entire life, was to live.” Yep. That about sums it up. That line clinched this particular memoir as among those that have had a deep, powerful effect on me at a time when I needed to hear the message the author intended. I’ve had trouble with that whole wanting to live thing lately. I’ve been struggling mightily with it, in fact. But today, as  I sit at my desk, window open, sun streaming in, the warmth of spring making it just a little easier to breathe, I can say for the first time in weeks, months, really: I want to live. Thank you, Ms. Johnston, for reminding me. I want to live.

Ms. Jonhston writes that she’s “convinced the only people worth knowing are those who’ve had at least one dark night of the soul.” Well, hell, honey, let me introduce myself. My name is M, and my particular dark night of the soul has lasted about a year and a half. Truth be told, I’m not worth knowing right now. It’s dark in my world, in my head, in my soul. But I was once, and if I’m open to some light seeping into this tortured mind of mine, I may yet be worth it again. Here’s to abandoning the end game and embracing life.  Here’s to having the Guts to live.

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3 thoughts on “Having the Guts to Live

  1. I just stumbled across your blog via Kristen’s Twitter, and I really relate to how you feel about her book. The laughing out loud and the flinch of familiar pain. I recently started my own recovery blog as well, seems to really be helpful for me.

    Anyway, your writing is beautiful and painful and very illustrative. I look forward to continuing to read you going forward. Hang in there, hard work.

  2. You may be one of the most inspirational people, and talented writers, that I’ve ever (kind-of-sort-of-internet-style) met. Thank you for having the courage to share all that you have. You don’t have to post this comment if you don’t want to. I just wanted you to know that you aren’t alone out there. xo

  3. My dear you are well worth it and then some. Your writing is utter brilliance and you shook me to the core. Share your story, do the work, you are a gift.

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