VàZaki Nada said, “Fear those who are able to create in the midst of their own destruction, they are invincible.”
When I read that for the first time, I laughed. For a while, I still didn’t know if it was out of disbelief that that had ever been the case or bitterness that I don’t much feel invincible at all, yet I try and create even as I seem set on casting away or sabotaging the best parts of my life. And what is there to fear here, really? A rage born partly out of frustration at someone’s manipulation of me and partly of my own ineptitude at not seeing it coming? Even then, ninety percent of my anger is directed internally and who would truly fear a man lamenting the decisions he did or didn’t make?
I think now, though, that I laugh because the quote lends a misinterpretation towards “tortured” or “struggling” or “angst-ridden” or “addicted” artists, towards people who crank out poetry, prose, music and art despite being burdened with an emotional, mental or chemical dependency.
It is a rare thing for the people described to die of old age and even rarer for them to die happy. Those people aren’t invincible. Have they endured an anguish or a compulsion or both that most might buckle under or overcome at the cost of producing nothing? Possibly. This doesn’t necessarily make them stronger, though they are strong. It certainly doesn’t make them invincible.
Substance abuse, depression, and many other mental disorders runs heavy in artists, the creative mind running rampant in imagination, working overtime in analyzing and overanalyzing things, seeing and feeling things to degrees most people don’t. Creating, putting that content out there is – for most – the only way to calm themselves. To distract from the world and its problems at large, to get the content out to be seen and absorbed and have it stop pressing against the corners of their mind.
Others start out writing to say something. HP Lovecraft, for example, is famous for being the modern father of horror writing, but he’s also known for the thousands of letters he wrote to publications and other writers and aspiring authors. He wrote about writing and processes, the city, and the people who lived in it. He wrote because there were opinions and thoughts and ideas he wanted to get out and share. Journalists and travel writers, photographers and political writers, writers that have heart-rending experiences or speak to those that do, or people with all too common issues that simply want to lend a voice to the voiceless and a call to those who know what it’s like just so they know they’re not alone… these people create with a purpose beyond beauty.
But painters, writers, poets, musicians, those with a spotlight on non-fiction, they all bring out that material because there is a fire in them. It burns in their gut, in their heart, in their mind, under every inch of skin. It’s a compulsion, an urge, an irrefutable fact that needs to be shared, and it’s done no matter what. No matter the divorce or death, no matter the drink or drug, no matter not being able to look yourself into a mirror.
Creating, for beauty or for information or for expression (or any mix of those, natch) is the only thing that keeps those artists going. Beyond the desire to do it, it’s a need. That need keeps them moving through just mountains of shit. Decades of self-loathing. Bottles of whiskey. Heaps of debt. Stints of homelessness. Whatever the circumstances may be. They persevere and they create despite it, channeling that hurt and rage and sadness and love for what could be and what is and what’s desired and what others just don’t seem to appreciate as much as they should, they bring all that out and put it on display anyway.
But they’re not invincible. They’re doing the only thing they can do, that they know how to, in order to survive. And while some might give up sooner, or while some might find a way into a better life, for most it’s just delaying the inevitable.
Vincent van Gogh. Ernest Hemingway. Robert E Howard. Hunter S Thompson. Sylvia Plath. Kurt Cobain. Virginia Woolf.
I promise you that any artist you see publicly destructing is doing so on another level privately. Do not fear them. Fear for them. They are not invincible. They are trying to give this world what they can before they give the rest of themselves to this world.
It has been a while since I’ve put any serious thought into suicide. A few years, anyway. I do think about death a lot, and about life. I recently had what I can only call a quarter-life crisis, and it’s something I’m still… sorting myself through. I realized I’m only three years shy of thirty, and I haven’t accomplished any of the things I’ve truly wanted to. I’m not living where I want to or doing what I want, but I don’t have the money to get started with what and where I do want. Younger me was ambitious and confident and clever. He’d have pulled the trigger anyway, but younger me did so with a safety net to fall back on
I don’t have that safety net anymore. My family is dead or estranged. My friends have families and responsibilities of their own. If I pull the trigger and fuck it up, bright, handsome Jered the writer could end up just another guy on the street because he honestly can’t afford anything else.
There are solutions, but let me break for a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:
“For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity or perception to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication.”
Nietzsche is famous and infamous, controversial and revelationary. He was also an avid opium user and often misquoted, misinterpreted, and quoted out of context. For example, his opium use is largely attributed to treating his ample medical conditions instead of a raging addiction. It may have been that the soothing effects of opium may have been the only thing pushing pain away enough to be able to write cohesively and thoughtfully.
But Poe liked opium as well. Hemingway and Bukowski liked a drink. Hunter S Thompson was a veritable cocktail of illicit substances. Liquor especially has always seemed to be a common ally to the writer, and I’ll admit that some of my best stuff has come out of me under the influence. I’ve never needed to be fully drunk to write, but a glass or two to keep me loose never hurt.
Bottom line is I’m not going to shit all over booze and say it doesn’t help the creative process. Do you know what, though? It doesn’t help anything at all when the person consuming it is having an emotional breakdown.
When you’re losing it, really losing it, the cool thing is that you can realize it but mostly only from the outside. You know your problems have a solution, but the problems all seem so many and so overwhelming, you don’t want to pick a place to start. You know you’re relatively young, but everyone else has houses and families and careers and though you know you shouldn’t judge yourself by someone else’s life, you do so anyway, and you feel like you’ve wasted yours. You know you shouldn’t be at the bar, you should be working on your book, but it’s too quiet at home this early and maybe you’ll see someone you haven’t seen in a while and it’ll make you feel better.
I fucking crashed and burned. I hit a really depressive patch and I had a weekend where I went a little too hard, then St Patrick’s Day rolled around, then it became a series of excuses to just try and come to terms with the fact I’m not who I wanted to be while continuing to push myself in the opposite direction.
I once sad-clown joked, “I’ve hit rock bottom so many times I should open up a timeshare.” This wasn’t rock bottom. Not for me. I’ve been in a lot worse situations. I’ve done worse things. I’ve gone on worse benders. I’ve hurt people, lost my job, skirted jail time, almost killed myself both intentionally and unintentionally. All things considered, this was pretty fucking mild. But my body had enough of my shenanigans, and I finally had enough of my shenanigans, too.
I got really bad alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The shakes. Fatigue. Light-headedness to the point I almost passed out at work twice in one day. It got to the point where I very much needed liquor to keep my body going. That is a serious problem.
That isn’t me. This isn’t who I am. I party, sure, and I like the taste of liquor and beers, but I didn’t used to fucking need the shit to sleep. I didn’t used to be so aggressive about it all. I used to have self-control. I used to have self-respect.
I realized immediately, finally, that I need to regain control of my life. I happened to pull up an old conversation with my best friend (who, at this point, hasn’t really spoken to me in almost a year). She had said, “I really hope that moving forward, you can be happier, because I miss that.”
I didn’t, and I haven’t been. I miss it, too, and I miss her. I’ve made myself a misery to be around, and I’ve taken it out on myself. Something needed to be done.
“I understand that you care. I just sometimes feel that the people who know me best are people I’ve never met.” -Iain S. Thomas
When I started writing this blog, I really felt like I had hit a stride in finding an outlet to really say the things I’ve been wanting to say and talk about it in a way that would reach others without compromising who I am or the way I write. I’ve covered subjects like being adopted, losing family members, rape, loss, suicide, love, heartbreak, writing. I’ve had dozens of people reach out to me across Facebook, Twitter and even here, where I’ve got over 150 followers who are mostly strangers and who mostly know me strictly through WordPress.
That confidence bled into Facebook, where I keep in touch with most of my friends. I didn’t shy away from being honest or from sharing poetry and art and beautiful videos and pictures anymore, and I think people started to see that.
When I hit my rough patch, I threw a lot of that away. I slid back into the same old routine, the same problems, the same habits I always had. I hurt and I raged and I wanted more, but I wasn’t speaking anymore. There was no longer a purpose to what I was writing. This wasn’t introspection. It wasn’t examination. This was whining.
I feel like most of the people I know pity me to some degree. Some outright loathe me. I feel like I’ve let myself go so much that people have no picture of who I am beyond being a hard-drinker and a lothario, a retail worker who writes things sometimes and tries to talk them up.
Maybe they’re right, I don’t know, but I don’t want to be that.
My withdrawal symptoms had become bad enough that quitting cold turkey probably would have done more harm than good, but I was determined to get back control of my life.
The first thing I did was disconnect Facebook. I didn’t need the distraction of other people. Trying to put up a status update that made people laugh or one that kept people updated on my progress, as if they needed to know. I didn’t want to worry about anything or get side-tracked with conversations and links and pictures. I shut it off, dropping mostly off the grid, though if someone texted or called me, I let them know I just needed some Me time.
The second thing I did was look up different plans for alcohol detox. I found a tapering plan I liked and decided to stick with that. One standardized drink (a beer or shot) an hour from wake to sleep. The next day would be an hour and a half. The next would be two and so on, until I wasn’t drinking at all. This was perfect. It kept my body distracted and it eliminated any urge I had after a certain point to just, fuck it, have some more. It became a chore (time to take my vitamin) and not a pleasure. There was no loose allure, there was no swim to get caught in.
As I write this, I’m a few days into it. I haven’t faltered. I picked up a few different vitamin supplements to help with the withdrawal symptoms, and I’ll probably continue taking them for a while after I’m done. They cost $60 fucking dollars, those bottles are going to be empty.
The trickiest part is doing this more or less alone. I texted my friend to ask if he would do me a favor, intending to ask if he would help support me through it. When he asked what the favor was, I told him never mind. I was pretty sure I could go it alone.
My co-workers mostly know, primarily because I had to explain the pill bottles and word spread. When I told them I was quitting drinking for a while, their responses were:
-“Dude, why you lying?”
-“Ew, don’t quit drinking.”
Only three other people know what I’m doing. Two don’t talk about me to any mutual friends and the third is my bartender, who not only also keeps my business to herself but who has been supportive and assistive during this whole process.
I trust my friends with a lot, but not with this. I think part of it is because I’m ashamed of myself. I feel like they already see me as a deadbeat, and I don’t want to have to come out and admit that I am, and that I have to actually fix something because I am broken. I don’t want them to discuss this with each other behind my back. I don’t want to see the disappointment or – even worse – the complete lack of surprise if I fuck it up. I just want to do it, have it be done, and then introduce myself back to everyone. I want it behind me so I don’t have the pressure of everyone’s vision of me and their expectations.
So I feel pretty alone, and I’m stressed, but I’m doing this. So far, so good. I don’t expect anyone to see my different. I don’t expect to win anybody back or win anyone over.
I’m not invincible. I’m the last person you should fear. I just want to be a good man that doesn’t feel so broken. I just want to be able to look myself in the mirror again.