I’ve been crying a lot lately. I cried yesterday in a room of sixty people that I had just met, and I cried in the shower at the yoga studio this morning. I did wonder for a moment what people might have thought of a man of 49 years, sitting there in a conference room crying, or hearing me sobbing in the shower, and I knew that, if anyone asked, I’d simply tell them the truth.
I’ve been crying for what I lost, and for what I never had—but more than sorrow for any particular past, I’ve been crying for the tragedy of lost time, lost connections, and lost opportunity. Some of my tears are shame and sorrow, and some are release and joy, as I cry with the desperate wanting to be in every moment and to be as much of myself in as many moments as I possibly can, so as not to lose any more.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard the old clichés “follow your passion” and “make the most of every day” and thought: what a bunch of BS.
For much of my life, most days seemed just OK at best, and often much worse. Many days were a struggle to get through. Many days seemed not worth being awake for. Many days I was so anxious, so depressed, disheartened, so negative, so desperate, that these phrases seemed like the hopeful, empty affirmations of the hopeless, not observations of any actual truth.
These hopeful mantras seemed like lies, and they made me angry.
How do you feel when you hear “life is short,” “do what makes you happy,” or “follow your heart”? Do those phrases feel true? Do they feel like you? Or do they feel foreign, hollow, striving, and weak? Do you wonder who came up with them, and why they they don’t ring true?
When I heard “follow your passion,” I had no idea what my passion was, or how I might ever find it. I felt left out, left behind, and hopeless. How was I supposed to find my passion, if everyone else had already been gifted with it?
When I heard “life is short”, I thought “it doesn’t seem that way to me.” In my journal in my senior year of high school, I wrote that I was “20% done” with my life—effectively, that life seemed not short enough. My wise and compassionate teacher Wayne Macdonald read that and he did attempt to reach out to me, but his message fell on my deaf ears. I wish I had that journal now, so I could read again what he wrote to me. Thank you for trying, Wayne.
For most of my life, my responses to these ideas made sense to me. I chalked them up as the naïve slogans of commuters in traffic, doing their best to convince themselves that sitting on the 101 with a cup of luke-warm coffee wasn’t all that bad. I thought my BS detector was working. I thought I knew the truth. I felt smart—bitter, and angry, but smart.
I’ve been crying because I’ve come to see that my dark vision was not the truth. Of course what I was seeing seemed true to me. It was true for me, and I didn’t have a way of thinking about how it could be otherwise.
Why? I was depressed. I was already depressed, at the age of sixteen.
How could I have been already so depressed, so angry, so hurt, at the very beginning of my life, that I wished for fewer years?
I didn’t know the answer until just recently. It took me until just now, at forty nine years old, living my fiftieth year, this very month, to fully understand how I ended up so low so early.
The answer is tragically simple.
I got drunk for the first time at the age of nine. I was drinking alcohol regularly in junior high school, when I was eleven and twelve years old. In high school drinking was the primary activity of my group of friends, and, it seemed, of all of the teenagers in San Francisco in the 80’s. And I don’t just mean that we drank at parties—we had parties to drink. We climbed the forty-three hills of San Francisco to drink (and take drugs). Drinking didn’t just go along with what we were doing, it was the main point of what we were doing. And, not just alcohol: everything and anything we could get our hands on: grass, cocaine, LSD, speed, pills, and more.
This doesn’t yet explain it yet, though. It’s not enough to say that drinking and drugs were bad for me. That’s true enough, but it didn’t mean anything because I didn’t understand how and whythese things were bad for me. I didn’t understand what alcohol, in particular, was doing to me.
It’s wasn’t that I was depressed, and therefore I couldn’t understand how “follow your passion” could be meaningful. It wasn’t “depression”, per se, that made me feel like life wasn’t short enough.
My depression was caused, very simply, by drinking a lot of alcohol. It may not even be appropriate to call it “depression”. I was simply in the state that results from chronic consumption of alcohol. I felt like shit, so no wonder life didn’t feel very interesting. In my younger years, I was drunk, hung over, or looking forward to having a drink most of the time, so there was no space in my young mind for my intuition to develop and flourish, so there was no way for me to know or feel that I was really interested in. The idea of following my passion seemed like a lame fantasy.
I wasn’t “depressed,” I was deadened by the constant input of this foreign substance. Alcohol clouded my perception, sapped my energy, left me in pain, and, most importantly, stunted my intuition just as it was beginning to develop.
My intuition didn’t have the chance to evolve normally. I couldn’t hear the whispers of my heart’s desires announcing themselves. Lacking any real passion for life, the idea of making the most of every day didn’t hold any weight for me.
And, because alcohol was part of all of my friendships and relationships, I wasn’t having real conversations, I wasn’t making real connections. I was lonely and I didn’t know why—and alcohol was why. I was lonely for a good reason: because I wasn’t building the connections that we all need to survive and thrive as human beings.
I always used to wonder what everyone else was talking about at parties. I didn’t know because I didn’t get much practice. Drunk and high as a teenager, whatever my friends and I talked about didn’t make much sense, and was quickly lost in the haze anyhow. By the time I was in my thirties, no longer using any drugs and just drinking ‘socially,’ I was so desperately alone that I was paralyzed on a daily basis by the thought of doing anything, especially anything big in my life, because I felt that I would have to do it alone. This was true, because I had insulated myself for so many years with alcohol.
To be clear: I was never what most of us this of as a heavy drinker, never a fall-down drunk. I got drunk most often in my teens and twenties, and then, for the most part, became a normal, middle-class wine connoisseur and enjoyer of fine cocktails. There were still plenty of times that I had too much and got drunk in my thirties and forties, but by the standards that most of us use, I didn’t consume an unusual amount of alcohol.
Still, I was deaf and blind—and I was deafened and blinded by something so common that nobody ever asked me about it. Alcohol has been such an accepted part of our social fabric that nobody, not my parents, teachers, counselors, friends, lovers, and later, doctors, therapists, analysts, employers, peers, nor colleagues—nobody asked me. My choice of whether and how much to drink never came up in conversation, let alone the idea that alcohol could have been the root cause of what because a life-long depression.
Numbed by alcohol, deaf to the whispers of intuition, blind to the passion for life that we all normally have as humans, there’s no reason to live fully—or even to live. “Passion”, “gratitude” and “life is short” seem like pat phrases empty of meaning, because they are empty of meaning—blocked by alcohol and the deadening caused by alcohol.
I want to emphasize that my own history with alcohol was not a pattern of decline caused by a gradual increase in consumption, eventually reaching a breaking point. The quantity of alcohol that I consumed gradually decreased over years and years, but the frequency of my consumption increased. I wasn’t a heavy drinker, I just liked to have wine with dinner. The problem for me was not the free-fall of guzzling vodka from a plastic bottle, it was the gradual depression—the pushing down—of my emotional baseline by constant low- to medium-level drinking. It wasn’t how I felt the day after, it was how I felt after years and years of accumulated days after.
I’m not crusading for anyone to stop drinking. For me, alcohol is obsolete, by which I mean that I don’t really want to talk about the stuff. What I’m trying to share is how I figured out why I was depressed, and that I suspect, I know, that many other people who feel depressed are as desperately frustrated as I was in not knowing why they are depressed. I didn’t know why I felt so low, and that left me feeling helpless, and hopeless, unable to imagine how I might heal myself.
My experience has taught me that depression isn’t just something that happens. There are many possible reasons for depression, and we can talk about them too, but far more often than most of us imagine, the reason is very simple: alcohol. That may seem unlikely, or too simple, but I know this to be true from my own personal experience, and from many others with similar experiences.
The magic is that once I learned this truth, my depression was easy to cure. Years of therapy helped. Exercise and eating more healthfully helped. Mindfulness and meditation helped. Many things helped, but the key that unlocked the exit door was understanding the relationship between alcohol and depression.
Why didn’t I find the key sooner?
Nobody talked to me about it. Nobody told me. Nobody asked me.
I needed someone to share with me how alcohol and depression can be so deeply related, and to ask me about my depression, and my drinking.
My parents didn’t tell me, or ask me. My teachers didn’t tell me, or ask me. My friends didn’t tell me, or ask me. My therapists didn’t tell me, or ask me.
I just needed someone to ask me. I needed someone to tell me the truth.
So: I am asking you.
Are you doing anything to numb yourself? Especially if you suffer from loneliness, anxiety, depression, difficulty making decisions, a lack of energy, enthusiasm, or passion for life—have you considered how drinking, even moderate drinking, is contributing to your state of mind?
Are you adding anything to your body that subtracts from your consciousness, your experience, your aliveness?
Free of foreign substances—normal and simply alive—we all have a natural passion for life, a fire burning within us, the elemental fire of our cells, the fire in our belly and in our heart, and the fire of human consciousness striving to be as much as possible. This is our normal human state of mind.
I didn’t cry much all those years that I was depressed, anxious, lonely, and lost. I didn’t have the heart. I’ve been crying now because I can feel what I lost—but even more because I can feel what I gained. I can feel what I got back, what I am, simple, true, natural and whole, unclouded, un-depressed. Normal. Sane. Happy. Grateful to be alive, and looking forward to the rest of the day.
Finally: while it’s true that alcohol caused my depression, it’s not its absence that has brought me to fuller self-awareness, a normally-functioning intuitive sense, and a greater creative flow. That came from me. I began to actively cultivate those parts of myself long ago, in earnest in my forties (this decade, ending soon!), and at an accelerating rate to the present day. I started practicing intensively in therapy and analysis, in my EO Forum, as I began to seriously pursue naturally kinetic outdoor sports such as kitesurfing, trail running, open-water swimming, and paragliding, as well as pilates, yoga, other forms of movement—and even, gradually, with my friends, and especially with other men. It wasn’t that I stopped drinking. I woke up just enough to stop drinking, and then once I stopped, my eyes opened with a start, and I saw how much more awakening there is to do.
It was my own gradual awakening that allowed me to begin to hear the messages that I was sending myself about drinking. It took time (too much time) to prepare me for the moment when it did finally become clear. And the fact is that someone did ask me. Kate asked me, after my friend Tom’s fortieth birthday in January 2018. She asked whether I might like to take a week off, with her, and I said yes immediately. I was ready, and someone did finally ask, and it made a huge difference. Whether or not I would have said yes to someone who asked me years ago, I have no idea—but Kate asked. Both are true. Nobody asked for most of my life, and then someone finally did ask, and it changed everything. Simply being recognized in my readiness helped me to make the final step.
Our natural state as human animals is happy, healthy and whole. I’ll ask you again: what are you putting in your body, and how is it making you feel?
If you’d like to talk about it, my door is open, you know where to find me.