Good News

I hear a lot of bad news lately. Sometimes it’s just the quality of the reporting, of course, but usually it’s the content. I see reactionism rising, neglect from those in power, and the ostensible good guys either trip over their own feet or lose sight of their original aims. Poverty’s spreading. I’ve been hearing of suicide, of abuse. My friends are struggling with unemployment and illness. There’s a lot of pain in my world right now: my people’s, my friends’, my own.

I can bear my own, with time, but it’s seeing others suffer that grieves me so much, so I can’t sit by any more. What can I do?

To stare down pain, a poet will write verses and a singer will write songs; a storyteller, when he sees his loved ones hurting, will tell tales to raise the soul. He’ll sing of a victory.

Now, I could tell you about long-ago successes–it’s kind of my forte–but I think I should tell you all a new story. It’s a story about me, but not just about me; it’s my triumph, but not just mine. And it’s not news to some, but not common knowledge, so: time to speak up.

I’ve been depressed for decades. Clinically depressed, some imbalance in my brain. I don’t really have a name for it, just a feel for how it works. I go from depressed to manic or back again some days; other times it’s just a bleakness that doesn’t let up, the world gone gray. One of my symptoms was cutting.

I’d considered self-harm for years, suicide by jumping or bleeding or just walking away from everything, but in the fall of 2007 I took my Swiss Army knife and started slicing into my left arm. Going by the scars on my arm I cut at least 18 times, but that number is almost certainly too low.

I lied about the red tracks my knife left: I slandered cats, carefully misspoke or misunderstood or misled, occasionally confessed. The lies bothered me deeply, but the worst lie was one that I’d been telling for years: “How are you, Paul?” “Fine.”

I became addicted. It gave me a kind of high, a thrill, a feel of having final control over how much harm I suffered. The pain of the knife and the sting of alcohol in the wound made me feal cleansed, strong. I got addicted–and I still am. I still think about my knife on my darker days.

But I don’t cut anymore.

Let me say that again: I don’t cut.

I haven’t cut for one year and ten months. 677 straight days. Every day I make it through, I win. Every day is another victory. Like I said, though, it’s not just mine.

It’s a win for my therapist, who was unrelenting in telling me to stop, and in telling me that I had the strength to stop.

It’s a win for my friends on my clearness committee, who sent me off to my therapist in the first place.

It’s a win for my housemates, Felix and Sola, who I’ve lived with for most of my recovery, and by simply being around, they helped me keep myself together.

It’s a triumph for Mr. Joss Whedon, whose characters have continually been an inspiration to me, no less for going through similar problems and coming out again.

It’s a win for my friend Loren, who bore the weight of my secret patiently, and for my friend Jacob, who kept making leading jokes about my scars until I told him the truth.

It’s a victory for my friend Mark, the eternal wise counselor.

It’s a victory for Emma, who made this year a miracle for me.

Most of all, though, it’s Jay’s win, Jay who helped me most. She found me when I was getting scared enough to quit, and just by being my friend and teacher she got me from wanting to quit to doing it, and got me through those first fragile weeks when I wasn’t always strong enough on my own.

So today I tell my story, in part as thanks, but in larger part to tell all of you out there who have stood by me and helped me that you’ve been winning every day, at least a little bit. Whatever else life drops on you, you’ve done good, and you’re still doing good, helping me stay whole. Remember that, when things get rough: you’ve done something amazing.

Every day, you all win a little more. How’s that for good news?

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4 thoughts on “Good News

  1. Thank you for writing this Paul. Although I don’t want anyone that I know to ever have to go through this, it’s nice to hear someone actually talk about it. People half brag about their alcohol problem while I always remained silent. There is nothing in my past that I am more ashamed of then this. It’s almost impossible for me to talk about. It has been 5 years now since I stopped, but I’ve fucked up now and again when the bottom drops out of my life. It means so much to me to live with people who care about me. People who wouldn’t believe repeated, mumbled excuses about killer cats or viscous blackberries. I’ve gotten better about calling people. I never say why I’m calling, but just talking to someone grounds me. I remember that the next day will probably be better.
    I know how strong you are for getting through this. When nothing else works I can usually get myself through by reminding myself how much my friends and family would be hurt/worried if they knew. I know that isn’t the strongest reason, but something it’s the only thing that works for me. Please let me know if there is ever anything I can do to help.
    Thank you again

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