One of the things I hungered for, when in the final stages of my drinking, was isolation. I just wanted to be alone. Alone with my alcohol. I sat in the bath. I drank. I read terrible books. And I cut myself. There is a kind of toxic majesty to sliding as deeply as possible into mirthless misery. Slow, bitter silence while little scarlet rivers stream off into the bathwater. I simply wanted to be alone. I imagined that I was purifying myself by bleeding: replacing all this internal sludge with clear, clean water.
I was not well.
This is my portrait of terminal isolation. Yes, I was locked in a bathroom. But the isolation was, for lack of a better word, spiritual. I shared this intense hatred of myself with no one. Not the therapist I shared other kinds of pain and hate with. Not the woman I had married and said that I loved. Not the doctor who saw the scars and asked if I was hurting myself. No one. I locked my self in a chamber, meticulously maintained – or so I pretended – so that no one could see how utterly shriveled I had become. I was an unwatered vine, wilting from the light.
When I write about this, I still, after all this time, fear judgement from those who have no experience with these things. Or worse, I fear their pity. I was sick and I was undignified and I was miserable, but I neither wanted nor deserved any pity for it, and I still don’t. Because I was doing it on purpose. I knew my potential. I knew my privilege. And I was deconstructing it deliberately. One day at a time trading life for death. An iniquitous obsession with misery.
When I finally, indescribably decided that somehow I was to turn myself from this fractured persistence and look up and try to find the light again, when I came to the place where I could not go on, but I could not change myself, I went to where people who once drank like me congregated. And I told them through a sheet of tears how I lived my life, how I drank, how I bled. And the men and women in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous understood how I felt. Because they had, to a person, lived in the spiritual desert I had inhabited.
Through the shared understanding, the aggregated experience and strength in those rooms, around those pressboard folding tables and in those sheet-metal chairs, I began, slowly, to emerge from my isolation and share in the hope that fills those spaces. I am still not well. I carry the alcoholism, the depression, the rage, and the compulsion to isolate myself in small dark spaces. I always will. But I know where to go to find the people who know that obsession. Who have risen from those graves. And I know how to be sober and social and productive among them. One day at a time, living life for life.
This is what I believe. Most of us are ashamed of something within ourselves we want to hide. Most of us have challenges we wish we could surmount, but cannot. Most of us need help. I believe that most of us want to be better than we are. And I believe that we all need something outside of ourselves, bigger than ourselves, to achieve that.
I believe, dear reader, that the challenges you face are real, and daunting. But isolation kills. And you are not alone.