My most honest and ugly self was in the notebooks. I filled them, both sides of the paper, handwriting so tiny that two lines of my script fit between the ruled lines on the paper. So small that the density of the books, weighed down with my anger and my hate, my self loathing and my aspirations would feel heavy to hold.
I’ve always presented well. I’m a well mannered sort. I’m a person who’s used the term ‘I’m sorry’ perhaps more than any person ever. I’m polite. I’m a door holder. I’m smart and I possess the decency that was instilled in me by my betters at an early age and I’m so happy that they did.
The me inside the notebooks was the opposite of what the world saw. I use the past tense because I’m older and time and my situation have conspired and left me rarely angry, mostly past the bitter resignation and largely living in the ‘acceptance of me for who I am’ phase of my life.
Inside those notebooks were my thoughts. I’d write them in and around the New York City I had moved to to disappear and become whoever it was I would become. I lived on St. Marks Place in Brooklyn on the top floor of a brownstone between 3rd and 4th. To the fourth was still a bit of plight at that time, but Park Slope’s sprawl has since reached my former block. To the 3rd was the Wyckoff projects. I come from a multicultural family of 9. While there are others that might have learned more from living there, I still learned a lot. It’s good for the perspective of white American men to live somewhere where they are an evident minority. Good for your understanding the daily lives of others. I worked at a group home (I am bound by my profession and my ethical adherence to correct myself and instead say, ‘community residence’, but I’ll leave group home as it is what I thought of it as at the time. Even though it was technically an ICF) on West 4th Street, park to the east and train station and the legendary West 4th Street courts (basketball) to the west. I wasn’t competetive anymore, but I remember being prideful enough at the time to insist I could have hung there. I couldn’t have, but perhaps I could’ve fooled em enough to get a run or two.
Anyway, I’d scrawl on trains and in libraries and bookstores and I’d put all my anger and all my hate at all the wrong people, into those books. I’d revile those I loved and I’d judge myself incessantly. I’d lash myself the hardest. A flagellant using tiny letters imbued with shame to properly cleanse my brain of my impurities. Or a raging rebel tipping over the towers with my pen. Whatever it was it was intense and scary and exhillerating and destroying me. I don’t really know how I got through that time sane. I’d finish each night drinking to black out. It was how I fell asleep for well over ten years. I couldn’t shut the rage without blacking out. I couldn’t silence whatever it was that lived in my head berating me without killing him nightly, drowning him. Drowning me at the same time.
I remember making an entry in the park. I don’t like writing with any distraction, but something was angering me and I needed to wrap up my well behaved, professional appearance and get somewhere quick before I exploded and that day and others it was Washington Square Park. The things I wrote were surely vile. Perhaps violent and most certainly unfair. They were honest. They were a me I had to be to get to the me I needed to become. I hated that me so much, and on some level knew that I needed to be aggreessive and out of control in my notebooks because I couldn’t be in the world. Those books contained awfulness. Awfulness I couldn’t avoid. I don’t know why and I may never know. There are still some roads to try walking down and I may find answers, but I had to be that person somewhere and thank god I had those books. I had no one else I could be that me with. I so hated that me that I’d put down my feelings and throw them out. Full books, hundreds of tiny words per page. I’d read something upon finishing from a few thousand words back and I’d recoil. I’d meticulously remove anything with my name on it or evidence of who the crazy was and throw that out at another trash can. I tried to throw away my pain and my anger.
I was so lonely. I was so in need of people I could trust. I was likely surrounded by them, but I couldn’t see it and it was so so lonely. There were times I’d try to get through a night without blacking out and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hide from me. I couldn’t get away from me and I needed to.
Friends who’ve tried to check me on the tiny details of that time, people who were there, who were completely unaware that I was having this experience. I suppose it makes sense. I’ve always played my part well. But the truth is that I assumed everyone in some way was experiencing this sad loneliness mixed with disappointment and discomfort in some way. I thought to some degree that was what it felt like to be human. Sad and lonely and human.
I’ve come a long way from those days. Largely because of the experiences of letting go of what I could, forgiving those I thought hurt me, forgiving myself and loving myself and most importantly liking myself. The last parts that made me able to feel connected I needed to do in therapy. Rather I was fortunate to speed them up a bit by having insurance that allowed me to get therapy.
Now I have my wife who is the hero of my story. She’s the only person, and others were close enough, but she was the only person that ever honestly and straightforwardly told me she was scared for me because of the drinking. Even working full time, before the kids I’d drink a six pack and a half a bottle of liquor cabinet sized liquor in an evening at home in front of the TV. It was a crutch but it was real and she cared. More importantly she said she cared and wanted me to stop. It’s not a big deal for me now. I get drunk once every couple years. And it’s a blast when it happens. There’s a day of rehydration, more like two now with age and being out of practice, but there’s no demons in those glasses.
My realest self used to hide in my notebooks and was dying from a lack of fresh air and sunlight and perspective. Now I write my story largely in real time and share it with the world unafraid. Well, if not unafraid at least unabashed. I have made real friends in facebook groups, other writers, bunker mates who are as real and as encouraging as any friends I’ve ever sat at a bar with. They encourage and plum depths. They aren’t afraid to hear and to share anything, they know that if someone is saying it, it’s real to them and needs to be listened to. We may not be ‘real life’ friends, but we pull for each other and cheer success and push each other and know that we can dare to be our real, scared, proud and vulnerable selves. That’s as real as it gets.
Writing that started as a true release of unwanted and unavoidable pain and has turned into a tool for empathy and connection. It’s transformed over time from harsh and critical to hopeful and aspirational. I’m truly a better person for having explored the depths and having passed that time. I know I’m never fully safe from anything. Tragedy and pain are real. I’m fortunate thus far and I’m thankful. Times will change and challenges will arise and when they do I’ll have a much fuller tool belt then I used to. I’ll have some love and empathy for me, which is something of far greater value then I could have ever imagined when it was lacking.