therapy

the oak doors loom heavy

large gateways to clarity

the therapist will see me now

my turn to lay prone

and stare through the perforated ceiling,

into the light, I begin

a babbling stream of consciousness

the trees providing counsel

when I stop, the wind starts

the leaves rattle but hold on

for every roadblock, a route around

every obstacle, a solution

and when my mind is at ease

and my debt paid

I leave, to experience more

for our next session

~

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

 

An Ode to my Hometown: Happy Again

I’m back from a short break of preparing to leave. It was a great weekend with friends and family, and it was much needed.

To wrap up my series on my hometown, I’m jumping ahead a half-decade. The healing process was so crucial, but it was also slow, plodding, and frankly, not that interesting. It was a lot of painful days, nights, weeks, and even months. Dips back into depression and learning how to cope and pull myself back out of it.

And this is in no way to minimize it. I still go through these spells and struggle with my past. But I handle it differently and know myself better. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.

Parklands Two Suns

So, I’m jumping to the last few months. In hindsight, I can say that I didn’t smile for nearly a decade. Not truly. It was always a fake smile or a smile drawn out by the pain of another. A mask meant to portray a feeling of wellness when all I felt was unease.

Society, generally, doesn’t handle unease well. We want everyone around us to be ok because it makes us feel ok. We are all more empathic than we realize, and when someone is sad or angry around us, we reflect that. Hide those feelings, because you don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable.

And its all bullshit. The saying growing up was, “Don’t talk to people about sex, money, politics, and religion.” The four taboos. The irony, now that I’m an adult, is that I see people, particularly those older than me, struggle with those topics. We were never taught how to handle talking about them, and now we’re too embarrassed to admit we don’t know enough about them. It’s a vicious cycle.

Regardless, after years of putting on the front, it took my being completely broken again to bounce back to a new level.

Parklands Bridge

About six weeks ago, I had my heart broken for the third time. And this one hurt in particular because, for the first time, I hadn’t felt like I had done something wrong. In the past, even as I was deflecting, I knew I was in the wrong. So, I handled this one differently.

I didn’t eat for two days. I cried, sometimes for overthinking things, sometimes for no reason at all. I couldn’t do anything as part of my regular routine. That was on a Thursday. By Monday, I had to rejoin society. I wasn’t ready, but we rarely are. And all week at work, it was fake smiles. I could barely focus.

Parklands TreeBut then came the weekend. I needed to clear my head, and being in nature has always been the easiest way for me to do that. One of my favorite places to do that is a place just outside the city called The Parklands. Eventually, it will be a 100-mile loop around the city of walking and biking paths. I mostly go there because Jefferson Memorial has always been much farther away.

I started walking. And walking. Poem ideas sprung to mind, I was able to take in some of the amazing views, and my heart rate got going. But no vision, no epiphanies, no final puzzle piece. I walked about four miles, feeling ok, but not having the moment that I so desperately needed. And then, I felt happy. None of the fake feelings I had over years of struggle. I was genuinely happy.

I thought it was because I was in nature. It was the only thing that made sense in that first moment. But the longer I walked, the more I realized that I had been in nature many times. That wasn’t it. It was the awareness that I was going to be ok. An assurance I hadn’t had for a long time.

Since my early twenties, I had always felt on the edge of disaster. Always on the edge of backsliding or blowing up completely. But I don’t feel that anymore. I went through something painful, felt it fully, processed it, and came out of the other side largely within a week. There were additional feelings I had to process after the fact, but if that first week had been the end of my experience with those emotions, I would have been ok. It’s more than I can say for myself at any point in my past.

I’m not sure how much of this revelation and elevation of myself I chalk up to The Parklands themselves. But I know that that was the place where I finally accepted myself. Where I was able to grow my worth beyond other people and where I decided that I deserved a life that I was capable of living.

Parklands Me

Thank you for reading this series. I really enjoyed writing it, and while I feel like this was a new beginning for myself, I also feel like I can finally close the book on this stretch of my life.

An Ode to my Hometown: Healing

If you’re from Louisville and haven’t been to Jefferson Memorial Forest, you’re missing out. It’s just outside the city in Fairdale, and it’s absolutely stunning. There are parts where you can see downtown from the trail, but it’s still far enough out that you can get lost in the natural silence.

JMF Sun

It was also my healing place. Shortly after my rock bottom night, I was searching for something, anything to make sense. I struggled for a bit, but it was actually a podcast that opened my eyes a lot.

My boss at the time was a runner. Specifically, trail running. This was intriguing to me, namely because I hadn’t done any sort of sports since I was in high school. I was out of shape and had heard of all the health benefits, both physically and mentally, of running.

But I’m an over-planner. I needed more information, and podcasts were something that I had gotten into as an excellent way to digest information and keep up with current events. I went to the running section, and it was, to say the least, limited. It was 2011, after all. But one stuck out. The Rich Roll Podcast.

Rich Roll is an ultrarunner. He runs distances longer than a marathon, which at the time was an insane thought. But the running was last on his background that drew me to listen. Rich is a recovering alcoholic. He was overweight, struggling to get upstairs in his own home. He changed his life, including going to a plant-based diet. If Rich could do it, I could do it.

And in a lot of ways, I copied his blueprint. I learned more about plant-based diets and eventually adopted one. I started training, putting in the slow miles and short distances, building myself up. I learned about meditation and delved into that. I wanted to do everything I could to stop a backslide. I also acknowledge that it was my addictive personality manifesting itself in another outlet.

I was getting better. But I still had lessons to learn. I have been, and I would argue, still am to a lesser extent, a control freak. I didn’t like the feeling that I don’t at least have a say in what’s happening with my life. And being that we are literally specks on a giant orb hurtling through space, I suppose I was going to have to learn how to be comfortable in that existence. And that’s what the trail taught me.

By this point, I was running pretty strong. Not in any sort of race shape, but I could get up the hills without stopping. And there are a lot of them at Jefferson. I digress.

JMF Trail

I was nearing the end of a ten-mile run, and I honestly felt great. But my legs were heavy.  I’ve always been bad at picking my feet up, but that quickly changed. I knew the trails pretty well at this point, where all the awkward dips and steps were. But I wasn’t ready for the root that I stubbed the front of my shoe on.

Usually, when I trip, I’m able to catch myself and carry on. But this was a full-on front tumble, face in the dirt spill. I literally had dirt in my mouth. And once it was determined that I was ok, I felt something else, something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt alive.

That momentary loss of control, when I was at my most vulnerable, I was finally able to feel the weight of everything in my life. Every terrible and good thing, flooding into my senses. It’s probably not unlike having your life flash before your eyes.

I was energized. I felt like I could get up and run another ten miles. It’s such a tiny moment in a life to have that sort of impact, but I remember it vividly. I know there were other contributing factors, but the shift I experienced from before and after this moment was so clear and defined. It was the first time that I felt I had repaired some of myself.

I started living my life in search of these moments. I’ve been slowly relinquishing control ever since, empowering the universe to guide me where I am supposed to be, rather than where I want to be.

This upcoming trip will be my big jump. My freefall into the abyss. I have a general idea of where I’m going, but there is no plan. No hard set date on when and where I’m stopping. No ties to anywhere. Just me, the road, and the universe.

JMF Trees

 

An Ode to my Hometown: Rock Bottom

I’ll cut to the chase. This one is rough for me to write. As I wrapped up my last post, I was spiraling out of control. I was deflecting and refusing to look my demons in the face. I was scared. But I was still arrogant.

The drinking had become my escape. I wasn’t an alcoholic in the sense that it is portrayed in movies and television shows. I was drinking 2-3 nights a week, which now seems like a lot. But I was in college, newly 21, and wanted anything to make me feel better.

I ran out of anti-depressants, but the damage had been done. I needed to keep feeding that beast. And at the time, my job was located two blocks from the downtown nightlife scene. Perfect.

I know most of this probably sounds like normal early 20s behavior, but the problem wasn’t the drinking. I don’t particularly like the taste of alcohol. But it was that removal of my mind from reality that I became addicted to. If I was conscious, I wanted to be thinking, doing, being anywhere else, but where I was. And to compound the problems, I was hellbent on trying to figure this out alone.

I was drifting between work, the bars, and home, and I got lost in the haze that had become my life. I was staying busy at work, going to the bars and drinking, and then sleeping, none of which involved me thinking about my own issues. And I existed in this bubble for a couple years.

It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom, a drunken night with friends that I decided I needed help. A group of us had gone downtown, my usual spot, and were having a good time. My friends decided they wanted to leave, but I wanted to stay. They left me with someone I had known for a minimal amount of time, and the next thing I knew, I was alone.

No problem, I’ll just go back in and keep drinking. It wasn’t like I had never done it before. But there was an allure. I wanted to meet back up with my friends. And, in a moment of drunken decision making, I tried to drive myself to them.

Now, I was fortunate that night. Not because I made it to the next bar safely, but because I didn’t even make it out of the parking garage. I had started to drive but wasn’t coherent enough to figure out where the exit was. Finally, a security guard stopped me. And to this day, I have no clue how I wasn’t arrested. He took my keys and told me to call my friends.  There’s part of me that wishes I could ask him why that had been his decision. The more substantial piece of me wants to stay as far away from that night as possible.

But my night wasn’t over. I sat against the wall of the parking garage, calling my friends with no answer, drifting in and out of sleep, while getting sick on myself. I was a complete embarrassment. I sat surrounded by those stone walls, thinking about my life to that point, a prisoner in my own mind.

What felt like an entire evening passed before my friend came to pick me up. In reality, it had been a couple hours. And the real twist of it was, I knew I could have called someone else to come to get me, and they would have been there in a heartbeat. Much quicker than what had actually happened. My parents, the woman I was dating at the time, other friends, and family, all could have gotten there ASAP. But I was ashamed. I couldn’t even muster the courage to do the right thing, after doing the wrong thing all night. I was a coward.

I still drank after. Still do. There have been low points and rough days when the willpower hasn’t been there. And nowadays, I can drink without delving into those negative emotions. But I’m careful. I rarely have more than two drinks, because two turns into seven very quickly for me. And I never drink if I’m not in an appropriate mental headspace.

Eventually, I’ll stop drinking altogether. There are social circles, especially in Louisville, where it’s hard to not drink. And I haven’t figured out how to tackle that. I don’t believe this an acceptable excuse, especially given my past, but I’m working on it.

The good news is, this is my rock bottom. Which means from here on out, it’s much happier. There are significant things that happened to pull me out from this stretch in my life, but it took roughly five years to get to where I am. No matter where we come from, we can always be better and do better. But we have to want it for ourselves.

An Ode to my Hometown: What Now?

Today is a bit different, for several reasons. Mostly, this place isn’t in my hometown. This is also where things peaked for me for about a decade. It’s only been recent that, with the benefit of hindsight, I understand I had let my life spiral for those ten years. But we’ll get there.

Northern Kentucky University was the first college I went to after high school. It was the first time I was living away from home for longer than a week, and it continued to build on the lessons learned in high school. Lessons of growth, acceptance of others, and independence. It also bred new insecurities, feelings of lack of control, and new levels of chaos in my life.

NKU Dorm

 

My roommate freshman year was one of those super popular kids from high school. He also happened to have two strikes on his criminal record. I don’t remember his name now. He was a really nice guy that seemed to have a knack for finding trouble and allowing trouble to find him.

I remember one night he snuck in through our window, got in bed, and said he had been there the whole time. And that’s precisely what we told the cop that showed up at our door about thirty minutes later. I still have no idea where he had been.

That first semester went well. I had good grades, was actually enjoying my classes, and had made new friends. Being that I knew basically no one there, those of us from Louisville quickly found each other and bonded. But there was definitely a core group that I hung out with consistently.

Reggie and his roommate Roger were my two closest friends. We hung out pretty much when we all had free time, and they taught me a lot about opening myself up to new experiences. Roger and Reggie were both much more outgoing than I was, so I tagged along on a lot of experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I opened up so much so that I was starting conversations with people that I had classes with, which was virtually unheard of for my introverted self. In particular, there was one girl in one class. And eventually, to make a long story short, I started dating the first woman I would love.

NKU Lake Pier

She was beautiful, intelligent, funny. Basically any good quality you could want in a partner, she had. Even her family was great. But I did everything a young man in love could think to do to mess things up. I stopped hanging out as much with my friends. I threw myself into the relationship while simultaneously becoming less trusting of her and, eventually, we split up sometime after the second semester started.

I spent a lot of time talking to mutual friends, and eventually, we started talking again. I don’t remember all the details now, but we ended up back together. A second chance.

The end of the semester came, and I had decided to move back to Louisville. My friends had found new friends due to my absence, my roommate never came back from winter break, and I thought that we could make a long-distance relationship work. And at another time, a more mature version of myself might have been able to.

In our break, she had started dating someone else. And it wrecked my psyche with jealousy. I brought that jealousy and paranoia into the exact situation where those kinds of thoughts and feelings would be the death knell. And the executioner was sharpening his blade.

When we broke up the second time, I was arrogant. I had talked her into giving me a second chance once, why couldn’t I do it again. And somehow, she was ready to give me another. It’s clear to me now that, as much as I loved her, she loved me more. And I took advantage of that until the people in her life wouldn’t let her anymore.

She had asked me to come to her dance recital. I say “asked” as if there was any chance of a future with her if I didn’t go. She stressed over and over how important this was, especially as someone who was trying to get back in the good graces of her family. And I was committed to going. Until I wasn’t.

I balked at the last minute and flaked. I don’t remember the shit excuse I gave myself, but trust me, it wasn’t worth remembering. I tried and tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t have it, and for great reason. I asked and asked, why? I knew I had messed up, but can’t you give me one more chance? No. I was, and I quote, a dick. And it only stung as bad as it did because I knew she was right.

NKU Courtyard

 

I spiraled. Hard. I knew I was to blame, but I refused to admit it, even to myself. I deflected and pretended, all while my mind was beginning its first descent into the dark world of depression. I got put on an anti-depressant, by my own request. And it helped for a while.

But my 21st birthday was quickly approaching, and the thing with anti-depressants is that drinking alcohol while on them is a terrible idea. I did it anyway. The night of my 21st birthday party, I wanted to be anywhere else. I wasn’t suicidal, and I never have been. But I didn’t want to be on this planet that night. It’s one of the worst nights of my life when it should have been one of the best.

At the time, I believed I was heartbroken. And to an extent, I was. But now I think I was punishing myself. I knew all the wrong things I had done. I knew drinking alcohol with the medication was dangerous. I did it anyway. I wanted to feel the consequences of my actions. Or to feel anything.

NKU Lake Pulled Back

NKU shaped me differently than the other places have. Not only because I had, until recently, associated more negative feelings toward it than positive, but also because the story, my story, isn’t tied as much to the physical location. When I went up a few weeks back to take the pictures, I definitely had a rush of memories associated with the school. But those aren’t what shaped me.

The feeling of connection with another person on that level was something I had been searching for. I was always the kid that believed in high school sweethearts. And that dream, that I had put on a pedestal, came crashing down around me, because of me. I wasn’t ready for love at the time. But even more than love, I wasn’t prepared to look myself in the mirror for who I was and hold myself accountable for the behaviors.

NKU Campus Green

Especially in writing this, I see how much I’ve grown since college. Some of the people I’ve met more recently may not even think this story is about me. And honestly, I don’t think about it much anymore, because I know I’m a different person. But it is a part of my story, warts and all. Besides, I still hadn’t hit rock bottom.

~

Thank you again for those of you following along with this series. It’s been very therapeutic.