Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Plotting a Course Out of the Doldroms

I hated to leave things on such a negative note last time, but that's where I was. Sometimes we are stuck in life without wind, without sail. Not long ago, I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which contains lines that should resonate with anyone who has ever faced depression:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

It didn't take long for me to decide that I needed to get out, get moving, find healing from whatever it was that dragged me down. My medication was changed; that was easy enough. But as I teach my clients (I've been working as an addiction therapist ever since I left chaplaincy), 95% of the battle is mental. If we only take medication, if we only stop using, we're only addressing a very small part of the problem. We have to get to the root issue out of which all the behavior and emotions are spawned.

So I knew that there was long, hard road opening up before me.

A coworker of mine recently returned after spending 5 weeks at a recovery / retreat center. His work had stressed him out to the point where he had a breakdown. That, combined with his own inner demons, necessitated the drastic step of a long medical leave with treatment. When he returned, he took one look at me and said, "Dude, what's got you so angry?" After listening to me rant about all the injustices, incompetance, and issues at work, he simply stated that I am filled with resentment, and suggested that I work on the fourth step of the 12-step program.

Mind you, I'm not an addict in any way, shape, or form. Although I did love the rum and grog in my college and grad school days, I simply do not fit the DSM-IV criteria for either dependence or abuse of drugs or alcohol. Yet, despite this fact, I decided to give it a whirl. I'm still working on it, but did it ever open up some bilge that desperately needs to be pumped out!

The process seems to be working. I'm giving voice to my resentments and working on processing them. There are some odd moments, though. I noticed that every July 30th (my birthday, in case you've a notion to send gifts!) I tend to have a bout of depression. There are reasons - I recall a very bad car crash that I witnessed when I was a small boy, I had to put my dachshund, Peanut, to sleep on the 31st of July, 2007, and a few other bad days that don't warrent mentioning here. But there is one tragedy that I can't seem to walk past. That would be the suicide of an ex-girlfriend back in 2004. She was buried on July 30th in Virginia.

We didn't date for long, but we did keep in touch afterwards. And that connection seems to have kept the wounds open. I need to keep looking at it and through it, but there are feelings of responsibility, survivor guilt, and Lord only knows what else. After years of searching, I finally found out the Funeral Home that conducted her service. I've emailed them, asking for the location of her grave. Maybe visiting that can give me some closure. Who knows. My colleague spoke of some other strategies that they teach in the recovery community. I'll try those as well. I don't believe in ghosts, but I believe that people can be haunted. If that's the case, then I have a regular Flying Dutchman of a life!

There's more going on as I try to get some wind in these sails, but I'll save it for another post. Perhaps later today I'll get some more time. Some interesting developments in the world of spirituality going on that is worth mentioning. That's been a sore spot in my life for a long, long time, extending back past the chaplaincy, past the churches, and into my time at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

But that must wait a bit.

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