The other day you ran a letter from a young person complaining that an old friend had sobered up and gotten boring; ironically, I'm kind of the inverse of that: I've gotten old and boring, so I've started drinking. While I'm sure it doesn't make me objectively more fascinating, it does temporarily alleviate some of the pain and tedium. But I realize it keeps me from moving forward and maybe salvaging something from what's left of my wasted failure of a life.
I'm 53 and never really got my life together when I had the chance. I tried, repeatedly, all through my 20s and 30s and 40s. I'm smart and talented, but I never established a career. While I know that an unfortunate childhood has saddled me with chronic depression and the feeling that major pieces of a healthy, productive ego were never formed, I can't seem to make up for their absence, talk or will them into being.
I married in my early 20s, and while I have the rare luck to have a spouse who values and understands me, the marriage has also been bitterly disappointing and frustrating. I thought this marriage would bring travel, opportunities, stimulation, a network of friends and acquaintances, and help me establish myself; but instead, my husband turned out to be even needier than me, so none of the things I thought we'd do ever happened. While coping with his withdrawal and major personal incapacities, I raised our three sons largely by myself; and while they're OK people and I have good relationships with all of them, they're not the prodigies I'd hoped for (and none of them are even girls).
I am well aware that my glass is probably more than half full (you should pardon the unfortunate metaphor). I am thankful to have basic (but only modest) financial security courtesy of a husband who loves me (but is annoying to live with and contributes nothing that makes my life more interesting), and a fundamentally sound (but not remarkable) family. Forgive me for sounding like such a bitch, but when I was young, I had hoped for an all-around brilliant career. Where I live, I'm a pathetic underachiever, and I'm too embarrassed to keep up with old friends.
How can I get out of my rut? I'm on medication, I've been in therapy (again and again). I am blessed with good genes and health, and could be vigorous for another 30 years. I genuinely love my husband, but I feel like I'm waiting for him to die so I can be free of this boring domestic caretaking. (Of course, when he does, I'll be bereft.)
Thanks for listening.
Still Hating Myself
Dear Still Hating,
Picture this: You are underwater. You have dived as deep as you can go, and you have stayed down as long as you can, and you are now dying for air and the surface is far away. Your oxygen is gone. You have stayed down too long, perhaps gripping a tree limb that is lying on the bottom, or holding on to the side of a sunken boat; you must reach the surface. If you don't, you will drown. All you want is a breath of air. You kick off the bottom and rise, frantically stroking, wriggling, diving upward toward the rippled luminosity beyond which is air and sky. As your head breaks the surface of the water you are born into the air again and suck in that beautiful, fresh, clean, salty air. You are exalted. You are grateful to be alive. And you are a little frightened at how close you came. It reminds you what you have: You have your life.
What if soldiers arrived at the front of your house to announce that your life is over? Would you want one more breath? What if a soldier placed a wet towel over your face and began to suffocate you? What if they were to point their rifles at you and say, This is it, no more life for you. What would you wish for? Would you wish for one more breath? Then take it right now. Take that one more breath right now as if it were to be your last. Can you taste the air? Is it sweet? Take another deep breath. Where are you sitting? Is there a window? Look outside. What do you see? Is there anything living out there? A tree or some grass or a bush? Go outside and find some life. Are there any bugs out there? Look around you at the insects and birds and trees. Observe some life. If there is a conversation going on in your head, say out loud to yourself, I do not need to be having conversations with people who aren't here. Silence the conversations in your head and walk about, looking for signs of life in your neighborhood. What is growing here? Are there any plants nearby? When you return to your house, look around. Do you have any plants in your house? Give your plants some water. Then rest.
You mention your "wasted failure of a life." Notice what you are doing as you say these things. As you proclaim your life a failure, are you hunching your shoulders and pinching down your breath? You can change the way you feel by adopting new postures and breathing, and you can also change yourself through exercise that makes you feel better. You can see your doctor about altering the combination of alcohol and medications that you are putting into your body. You can build exercise, meditation and nutrition into your life. You don't have to figure out all the wounds and tribulations of your life right away; you don't have to figure out why you made this or that decision; you don't have to live in the past. You just have to stop destroying yourself. Natural healing will take place.
You say, "an unfortunate childhood has saddled me with chronic depression." So you are saddled. You are a beast of burden. You are a once-proud and strong mare who has been saddled and is being used to transport ore, or corn, or to pull a cart filled with unruly children. If you are saddled, then you must bolt! I soberly and in all sincerity advise you to buck off the rider, shuck off the saddle and gallop away into the woods. Find a high meadow and feed on lush grasses. Put your muzzle down in the turf and gobble up some grasses. Feed yourself. You have been a beast of burden too long. This was not your destiny. But you must take some action if you are to unburden yourself.
You mention "the feeling that major pieces of a healthy, productive ego were never formed." Maybe that is why, though you are a strong and beautiful mare, you got saddled hauling ore and pulling a cart. There is a wound. If you are going to survive and get out of this rut, you are going to have to accept the wound and focus on getting, today, whatever oats you need. Whatever your wound is, whether on your flank or on your back or your leg or your neck, whatever happened back then, accept it today. Kick and scream. Lie on the floor and weep and keen and moan and cry for it. Rend your clothes and bite yourself and beat your fists on the wall because of it.
Then take a deep breath. Find the life force. You have at least one more day. See what life you can find in it.
Think of the miracle of your birth.
Think of the heroic struggle you made as an infant to survive in this new world; think of that time when all your resources were devoted singly to surviving, getting a breath. Think back to a life-and-death situation when you had to struggle mightily just to preserve your life. When we preserve our lives, what are we doing? We are saving ourselves. This is not intellectual at all. What are we? We are bodies. What do we want? We want to breathe and survive.
"I'm 53," you say, "and never really got my life together when I had the chance."
We humans are capable of deep perversity. We may be sitting in a beautiful forest surrounded by birdsong on a fine spring day and be torturing ourselves about this one time we really screwed up royally back in the '70s! I keep thinking you need nature. If we are alienated from nature, we cannot sense where we are; we cannot sense the moment; we drift back to the '70s and some bungled med-school application ... or further back to some primal wound of childhood, and we sit on it, we fester, we punish ourselves for it.
Get back in the moment! Where are you living? Are you living in a little room strewn with papers? Is there any sunlight where you are? Outside your house or apartment, is there a stream you can walk along? I think you need to run.
Find a stream or a river. Run to it. Drink deeply from the stream.
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