Tag Archives: Growing Up

Prioritized

29 Jun

Sometimes, in my more lucid moments, I wonder how the hell I have lived this long.

I forget damn near everything I’m supposed to do. I can tell you, with an embarrassed smile and a hint of pride, that the main gun on T-80 tank is 125 mm. I can recall that about a million years before Homo Sapiens emerged, the Mediterranean was a super-heated, lifeless abyss devoid of water. I can even have a full discussion about which classical general is my favorite (either Belisaurius or Xenophon).

But I’ll be damned if I can remember that I planned to take out the trash today.

That’s the kind of scope I have had to put these things in. Taking out the trash, an activity that on the long end consumes, say, five minutes. I have had to block out a 24 hour period to get that done, because that way there is at least a chance I would remember it within the set time.

How the hell do I eat? Unless I’m with other people, it’s honestly kind of a crap-shoot.

“Alright Mike, we are going to eat healthily, because you’re tired of that embarrassing gut,” says my good side.

“Alright, I’m on board,” my bad side says absently. “Bitches love flat stomachs.”

But when, at an appropriate time to eat, my good side says, “Alright, let’s get a salad.”

My bad side responds, “Bro, Facebook. We need to hit refresh at least thirty more times. And look at all of the Wikipedia here. LOOK AT IT ALL. Are we just going to sit there and let it not get known? What is one salad in the face of all human knowledge?”

My bad side is an incredibly manipulative prick. My good side? A bitch. So two hours later, famished, I run from the article on human rights abuses during the Falkland’s Island War, microwave three hot dogs, and then run upstairs like I’m afraid history is somehow going to be different if I don’t get up there RIGHT NOW.

It’s been pathetic, and it’s always just a matter of will power. I am getting better. I clean sometimes, without getting yelled at. At times I am overtaken with the very adult realization that I live in a hive of scum and villainy, and that I should do something about it. Sometimes I even do it RIGHT THEN. I’ll say “this is disgusting,” and spend and hour cleaning up the stacks of empty soda and booze bottles, paper plates, and fast food bags my friends and I have left in the living room.

But often I just don’t notice the mess. There is so much crap going on up in my head. How in the hell do I remember to do the dishes when I am giving an earnest go at solving the budget crisis. Never mind I CAN’T solve the budget crisis. I say to myself that in the long run it is a more noble expenditure of my time to contemplate solving all the world’s problems than cleaning my apartment.

This is not a case of my suffering from crippling genius, as anyone who knows me will tell you that I am quasi-functional at best and a slack-jawed idiot most of the time. This is a case of me simply not having my priorities. That is to say I don’t prioritize much, I just do what is the most intellectually stimulating thing at the moment.

This has definitely gotten better. I now have a list:

1)      School

2)      Work

3)      Get In Shape

4)      Everything Else A Human Being Does

This list is not perfect. I’m sure you can see where there are holes in it (where is the booze priority Mike, hmm?) But it’s getting there. It’s just really, REALLY hard. Doing things when they need to be done, instead of when I feel like doing them, is something I should have started learning when I was twelve. To be fair, I was reading about String Theory when I was twelve, so it’s not like I completely wasted that time. I know how to learn. This is just one more thing I need to learn. And I am learning it.

Until I’m finished learning it though, I’m going to look like a bum and have to set three different alarms to remind me to check on the laundry.

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The Captain and I (part 4 of 4)

20 Feb

(Part One)

(Part Two)

(Part Three)

Eventually I started crawling up. Partially due to poverty, partially due to a glimmer of understanding, I stopped drinking every night. The awful roommate I was living with at the time left. My friend came back from Iraq, and instead of drinking because it was a very incremental form of suicide, I was drinking to celebrate again. Slowly my friends came back, and with each new addition, there was more to celebrate. Legitimate celebrations. We had all gone through some extremely painful and deep shit, and alcohol makes it easy to distract yourself.

This summer I partied a lot. All of us made up for lost time, throwing parties without pretense: we wanted to party and that was all the excuse we needed. Our revels were good natured: we are all good natured people and the people we invited were good natured. For the first time in my life I stopped caring. It was more than a fatalist’s nihilism (though I will admit that it cropped up time to time). I just simply embraced that fact that happiness, that good feelings, don’t have to have a reason. I didn’t need some cosmic justification for smiling. I had survived the worst year of my life, and that was enough for me.

That realization, that it was alright to be happy, and that I didn’t have to explain it to anyone, gave me the strength to get back in school. I got back into school, and I kicked its ass. Was I a perfect student? God no. I didn’t emerge from rock-bottom re-forged as a muggle Hermoine; but I learned what I needed to learn and got good grades. Things were going great. And I was putting back a handle of rum a week.

Wait. What?

That’s a lot of alcohol. That’s an obscene amount of alcohol. That is a 12-steps amount of alcohol. Which brings us to the statement we’ve both been thinking through this: Mike, you sound an AWFUL lot like an alcoholic. Yes reader. Yes I do.

I have thought about this a lot. That’s because alcoholism is a huge deal, and one that runs in my family. On one hand, the evidence is pretty damning: I can’t think of a single time I’ve gone two weeks without any alcohol since I turned 21. Also, people call me an alcoholic, and while I’m not one to make important policy decisions based solely on public opinion that’s kind of a thing. On the other hand, I don’t feel bad or anything when I don’t drink. A week and a half without a drink and I feel literally no compulsion to drink, I don’t feel sick, I don’t feel much of anything. That’s not denial either; if I was an alcoholic I would damn well want to know so I could get help.

Ultimately, it’s something of a moot point, because I’m just not drinking as much anymore. Yes I get drunk when I party, and no, I don’t feel a need to apologize for that. But overall, I’m drinking less. It’s because inevitably, if I don’t slow down, I will become an alcoholic. It’s because alcohol is poison and years of poisoning is a bad idea. But mostly it’s because there are 120 calories in a 2.5 oz shot of rum and I’m tired of being fat.

Yes, that’s right, my wake-up call was Googling the calories in rum. For a bit over a year, rum and coke has been my drink of choice. Given that I put what can charitably called a “nearly undrinkable” amount of rum in drinks, each of my rum and cokes is like 400 calories. Now multiply that by the five or six of those I’ll put back at a party, and we’re looking at a normal human being’s daily allotment of calories in a four hour period.

So I am drinking less because I want to lose weight. And because I’m tired of being called an alcoholic. Alcohol has been (indirectly) responsible for some of the most painful and terrible moments in my life. Alcohol was also there through each step of my return to life. I do not have any sort of affection or sentimentality towards alcohol; I drink when I celebrate because it feels good and being sober when everyone else is drunk sucks.

So yes I drink to celebrate. But I don’t celebrate to drink.

 

The Captain and I (part 2 of 4)

18 Feb

(Part One)

The legend is that after he was killed at Trafalgar, Admiral Horatio Nelson’s body was preserved in a cask of rum, as the alcohol would preserve it. It was actually brandy, but marketing is stronger than history and Admiral Nelson’s Rum is available at your local liquor store for a pittance. This makes it incredibly attractive as a beverage for poor college students. The Admiral chose Black Friday, that violent orgy of commercialism, to come into my life. I had just worked a twelve hour day at Best Buy, and I was tired. But it was Thanksgiving break, and everyone was in town. This was a time to celebrate, and as I have previously stated, I liked to celebrate. So, on six hours of sleep in 36 hours, I drank. A lot. I drank so much Admiral Nelson’s and coke that for the first time in my life, I threw up. I then passed out in my room.

I woke up with what I thought was a hang-over. As luck would have it, some thoughtful person who desperately needed a $78 Kodak shit-cam had not only given me their money, but also their bronchitis. Given that my immune system had been punished by having no sleep, and then had been poisoned quite heavily, I can’t really blame it for giving up. I got pneumonia, which kept me bed ridden through the vast majority of the final projects which make up the bulk of any art class’s grades. Long (and too often told) story short, I failed three of my five classes.

Woops.

Now most people are very familiar with the image of someone drinking because they are sad, and we all know that this man is an idiot because drinking doesn’t make you feel better. This is an example of you not having a damn clue what you’re talking about. That man isn’t drinking to make himself happy; he, like you, knows that won’t happen. He’s drinking because when he’s drunk he won’t feel bad for telling you all about it. Sad drinkers drink so that they can let being sad out (without feeling guilty for ruining your buzz).

As you have wisely predicted, this is the point when I started sad drinking. This grand adventure in adulthood had suddenly become an enormous mess, and I was fucking it up royally. I was smart enough to know that drinking because you’re sad is also when people start worrying about you, which was the last thing I wanted (I’m a grown-up goddammit!).  So I would start each night of drinking with a smile: We’re celebrating the latest paycheck! (Because something that happens every Friday absolutely needs a fifth of Smirnoff dedicated to it). The fact that each night ended with my friends awkwardly dealing with a sobbing, snotty Mike was conveniently covered up (in my mind) by the fact we’d started so well, and they were well and truly smashed too.

I was depressed, and since I was convinced I wasn’t self-medicating, I sought professional help. I received it (God bless my parents for having health insurance), and so was prescribed a potent cocktail of anti-depressants, mood-stabilizers, and in time anti-anxiety pills. All of these were designed to put my depressed levels of dopamine, serotonin, and whatever the hell else was confused up there, right. Each bottle, along the name of the prescribing doctor and the pharmacists number, bore an identical sticker.

DO NOT TAKE WITH ALCOHOL.

I read incredibly poorly for an English major.

(To Be Continued)

The Captain and I (part 1 of 4).

18 Feb

When I was 16 I started sneaking whiskey from the cabinets in the kitchen. This was not a difficult proposition for a number of reasons: My mother was very ill, and the medication she was taking didn’t exactly sharpen her senses. My father was working ten hour shifts what felt like seven days a week, and he didn’t really have a lot of time to check the fluid level of his Jack Daniels. Both of them were asleep from exhaustion by eleven. So at 16 I could easily sneak down stairs, pour (what now seems like) a pitiful amount of Jack into my coke, and wince through my grand rebellious gesture. I doubt I ever really felt the effects of the ethanol, but the drama of the act generated its own buzz.

Unlike 99% of American youths, I did not actually increase my alcohol intake when I (first) went to college. In fact, I more or less completely cut it off. I remember both instances of under-aged college drinking. One was a Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which I discovered was delicious when my Aunt snuck me a couple over the summer. The other was a party in Ohio, where I was also introduced to an interesting method of imbibing: binge drinking.

Now I made a point about Mike’s Hard being delicious because most alcohol is decidedly NOT delicious (or so I thought at the time, more on that later). In the great, broad spectrum of alcoholic beverages, the vast majority are vile. This is because ethanol is a poison and your body wants you to NOT put poison in it. Fortunately human beings have evolved sufficient self-control to overcome such primitive and backwards wishes.

Binge drinking addresses this problem, the taste problem, head on. One is drinking alcohol to get drunk; at 20 this feeling is incredibly novel and the lowering-of-inhibitions has the added effect of stripping you of your incredible awkwardness. Plus it’s something grown-ups do and everyone is making an enormous deal about how we’re all adults now. Regardless, you are not drinking $10 vodka because you “enjoy the flavor.” So you do not sip it, you chug it. This gets the most “drunk” for the littlest “taste.” A single shot of vodka will make your tongue miserable for two minutes, but this clock resets with each new shot. If you take the shots in rapid procession, you can REALLY cut down on the amount of tongue misery. Plus, once you’ve committed to your buzz, it does you the favor of cutting down on ANY sensation, which makes the flavor a LOT easier.

Thanks buzz.

The party in Ohio was the first time I ever binge drank along with many other new things. It would be the first time I would run around in a parking lot – shouting in what I thought was a whisper –  about how ridiculously drunk I was. It was the first time I would perform that celebrated bit of theater: pretending to be sober when in a place where being drunk might get you arrested (a friend desperately required green beans).

Ohio was also my first hang-over, and this is where a problem begins. You see, when one ingests poison, one will in time feel poisoned. That is the nature of poison, it poisons you. Unfortunately, I did not have much of a hang-over. This is unfortunate because this is when MOST people learn what is ubiquitously known as “their limit.” The miserable hang-over is like the sun, melting one’s ethanol wings for flying too high (that’s an Icarus reference, because quoting Greek mythology during my dissertation on drinking makes me seem sophisticated). I did not learn my limit. It would be four years before I would reach that point.

So, having learned only that Southern Comfort and Rum are pretty easy to shoot, I approached 21 with no consternation, only anticipation. As the oldest in the group, I had the unique distinction (for a month!) of being the only guy who could buy booze. Not having any money, this meant I had the unique distinction of being the guy who takes his friends money to buy everyone else’s booze. As the only supplier, I could do this without much complaining. We all got completely shit-faced, and it was wonderful. We had a couple of parties, accompanied by a couple of drinks. I had just moved back to Indianapolis and everything was going absolutely wonderful. There was so much to celebrate! First apartment? DRINK! First day of school at the 2nd Best Graphic Design School in the United States? DRINK! New job at Best Buy? DRINK! The girlfriend seemed ESPECIALLY in love with you? DRINK! Suddenly there was nothing too small to celebrate and life was great.

Until Admiral Nelson came.

(To be Continued)

On Dreams

1 Oct

When you grow up, they give the excellent advice to chase your dreams. Unfortunately, no one ever tells you that your dreams never stop changing. It’s one of those lessons that, if you’re lucky, you’ll learn. And if you’re very lucky you’ll learn not to see it as “selling out” or “settling” or any of those other things high school tool-bags call it when you accept something “less” than what you set out wanting. The fact is that what you want, much like you, is constantly changing.

I used to want the most mundane of the American dreams: white picket fence, wife, and kids. As I grew up, I realized I needed a job in there somewhere. Shortly after that I realized an office job just wasn’t me (I know there are few young people who think an office job is “them” but I also know few people who think I could ever be happy like that). I found the girl, I found the career path, and I figured I was heading where I wanted to be. Set a course for success.

Then my life made like a housing bubble and imploded.

When you see people after natural disasters, they are always picking through the ruins. They are sifting through the shattered rooms, searching. They soon realize they aren’t looking for their old lives… it’s readily apparent looking at that broken, splintered house that you’ll never live there again. The door frame that held the marks for your son’s growth since age two is gone. What they are looking for is something to salvage. They are trying to find what parts of their past will be going forward with them into their future.

Much like them, it took me a while before I realized that’s what I was doing. My life before then was gone. I know that’s a very, very “big” thing to say. But it’s true. Thankfully she and I both had the shared presence of mind not to draw it out any longer than necessary: it was my idea to stop talking, and despite my regret, she stuck to it. I couldn’t pretend that old life was getting built back up. It was over, in every sense of the word.

To be fair, she was only part of the mess my life had become. But she was the part I had always wanted. Not her, specifically, though I did love her very, very much (enough to let go when she made it clear that’s what she wanted). No, I loved the life I had made with her. I loved the picket fence and kids and all those other dreams I had quite nicely painted her into. But those weren’t her dreams.

And they aren’t mine now either.

I don’t know how long that will last. It’s always difficult to tell if you’re rejecting something simply to avoid a memory or if you really have changed enough not to want it. Some things, it doesn’t matter, cause you only liked it for them (I will never, if I can help it, watch Gilmore Girls again). Other things you learn to like with them (the amount of “crappy pop” I still listen to is shocking). But some things, like the dream of having children and getting married, you bring to the relationship. And when those things fall to the wayside, it’s hard to place the reason.

For now, I know I can’t ever place that much of my happiness on someone else. I was dependent on her love for my happiness and that’s unhealthy. For both people. It’s not unique to her; I’ve done it to every girl I’ve ever loved. It only became a “real” problem when I stopped being able to take care of myself at all (hah, massive depression is surprisingly massive). But it was the underlying problem behind every single disagreement (we never “fought”) we had. At least on my end; nothing like a break up to make you realize you really don’t know how another person thinks.

I have to work on that, and I can’t think of any way to do that which doesn’t involve being on my own. I can’t keep chasing a dream that depends on someone else. I’m too passionate about my dreams, too much of a perfectionist. I’ve got to find dreams for ME that are about ME. That way my dreams don’t become someone else’s cage. For God’s sake, she told me she felt liberated when she left. That’s a clear sign I wasn’t (and probably still am not) ready for something serious.

It has the added benefit of limiting how much someone I love can tear my heart out through my throat.

Beyond the logical/emotional there is the simple fact that it has lost most of its appeal. I’ve found other things I want, other things I love. Finally, FINALLY, I have dreams that are about me.

This summer I traveled (the popularity of my posts during it helped inspire this blog). My best friend since I was twelve got in a car with me and we drove West to see the country. It was, up until this point, the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. And that’s probably because it was about me. It’s one of those formative moments whose importance is still growing, as I understand what a turning point it was. It proved a lot of things to me:

I can do things on my own. I didn’t have any “adult” help beyond suggestions for places to go. I planned everything, and for the most part, it worked out. That’s huge. I did it. And not just anything. I did something most people dream about their whole lives.

I also loved it. It was exhilarating and I have never felt more free. We had no one demanding our time, no itinerary, nothing forced. Those two weeks were about what WE wanted to do. I loved seeing new places, meeting new people, and spending time with my best friend. It was an adventure. We took risks (some insane), and it was the most fun I’ve ever had.

I don’t need a girl to be happy. I know that’s a very basic and “duh” kind of thing. I also know most people never really internalize it. Before her, I had, but after three years you kind of forget it. This trip helped me remember. I had a blast, really for the first time since it ended.

She’s still a big influence on me, but that’ll happen when you spend half of your “adult” life with someone. At one point, that would infuriate me. “She shouldn’t have that power” blah blah blah. She doesn’t have any power. At least, she’s not around to exercise any she may still have, and even if I follow through with my new dream of studying Journalism in Bloomington, I don’t think that’ll change. But she was the one who initially wanted to see the world (I hated it at the time). Hell, she was the one who actually did something about her dreams.

So I learned something from her. But mostly, I learned from me. I learned, as I built myself back up, that I had changed. That I wasn’t who I was then. Which is good. I’ve “grown up” a lot. I don’t hate myself anymore, which is an odd thing for a total melt-down to do. Applying for school, getting accepted, applying for financial aid, getting it, moving, and all the other “adult” things I’ve done on my own since then… those are mine. I did it, and I did it well. It’s weird viewing basic life functions as an achievement, but when you’ve always hated yourself savagely you don’t do much to help. Now that I don’t hate myself, I’m doing a lot I couldn’t before. I’m dreaming bigger.

I’m going to write a novel that makes the news. Hell, I’m probably writing one right now. I’m going to make the news, as a journalist too. I’m going to write things that change lives. I’m going to do it with all of those who stood with me through this breakdown. And through the ones that follow. Because life isn’t a flat road. And the route isn’t ever certain. I may change my mind about where I’m going, or how I’m getting there. But one thing is for damn sure:

I am going to get there.

Across Face and Time

23 Sep

Facial hair, like so much about adulthood, was exciting and awesome for about two weeks. Then you realize that really it’s just another chore, and one that everyone can tell you’re shirking (unlike, say, cleaning your room). At least it can still look good when everyone knows you’re shirking.

I grew up a straight razor guy, as my parents would buy me disposable razors. I was fifteen when I started needing to shave. No matter what he make think, every fifteen year old dude needs to shave. It never, ever looks good at that age. I realized this. For like… a year.

Then came the dark times. They are called that cause I sort of emotionally imploded and jumped off the deep end. At least, that’s the official story. It may actually be the embarrassment of me trying to grow a chin beard. It is a universal law of men’s facial hair that the one type of facial hair they want will be the absolute last one to come in. For me, it was the goatee.

I couldn’t grow a moustache to save my life, and my chin had a bald patch SMACK IN THE MIDDLE. It looked like someone had come buy with an electric trimmer and just took a chunk out in the middle. Yet, with a stubbornness only a sixteen year old boy can manage, I kept trying to grow it out. Whereas most teenage boys have that dusting of dark hair under their nose that makes them look like they’ve been huffing coa-coa powder, I had an unsightly group of hairs clinging to my chin like dying trees on the tundra. Pathetic.

Eventually I abandoned the chin beard. I had sideburns for a while, and those were cool. In fact, since leaving for college I have tried most of the normal facial hair styles. I’ve had a full beard, the strip, moustaches, horseshoes, and even the Franz Josef (which made the ex literally gag). Generally I have worn what most call the “gruff stubble” which is universal for “lazy.” It’s the five day shadow you see most college guys rocking.

A few weeks ago, I tried it again. I tried the chin beard. My goatee is actually full enough now that when I have one, I shave it back some so that it looks refined instead of like I want to join Shinedown. I figured why not. I always wanted it.

Woops.

Let me tell you, what was so cool when I was all pseudo-goth/alterna-rock/emo is not as cool when I’m a grown adult most of his way out of those kind of stereotypes. I looked like an MLB pitcher thrown into some hipster clothes. It was ridiculous.

I’m back to the trim goatee now. It helps me cope with my weak chin (which isn’t actually very weak now that I’m trimming off the fat). I think I look good. I certainly look better than I did with the chin beard. It’s been a great lesson that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to but couldn’t at eighteen.

Who knew?