I am challenging myself to begin an exercise of trust, or at least vulnerability, by chipping through my secrecy.
So thick is my denial that I sometimes don’t even perceive myself as secretive.
This blog, where I have revealed more about myself than many would be comfortable doing, has surely been self-revealing. However my secrecy – read insanity - is not so much about what I’ve done, or what has happened to me, but how I have so often coped mainly by seeking my own counsel.
To believe that this is satisfactory is a big lie, just as it is untrue that I have not had outlets (mostly professional) with whom to release the inevitable heads of steam along the way.
Yet I isolate. My friends think I am doing okay, better than okay even – or do they? Am I the last one to recognize how distressed I am?
There are so many lies about myself that I have believed.
This began early.
Mr. G., C. G., sadistically tormented me as my elementary school’s head teacher – this being the only example to have been put in narrative form – all the more sick because he was a family friend (and a member of our church).
I believed that I was somehow a lesser human being because of the way he pitted my nerdiness against his, and his son’s, athleticism.
“Four Eyes” he called me after the sick, abusive way he tested my eye-sight.
Did I report that to my parents at the time? Not with my childhood belief that adults (and adult friends moreso) stuck together, and he probably knew that. (It’s only in my adulthood that I have taken his name in vain among family members.)
His steady chipping at my self-esteem set me up nicely for coming of age – as I saw it at the time – with strange, much older men in my teenage years.
A few years later, at the hands of someone else, this was sexual abuse and exploitive, at the very least, and with today’s level of kid-proofing I believe I probably would have reported it.
In the confusion of realizing that my sexual orientation was not like other boys I carried guilt, shame and self-blame so reporting the perverts did not seem like an option. Those feelings just seemed to confirm what I had been seeing in myself since Mr. G. threw a blanket of abuse and secrecy over me and stole so much of my childhood wonderment.
And then he failed me in math – was it any wonder I could not learn from him? – giving him an extra year for his sadistic pleasure. Equating school with mortal terror it is a miracle I was ever able to get to high school, to say nothing of college.
I drank, and quite heavily, from the earliest opportunities. I had my first black-out that first September at college. When I left home, in the fall of 1977, to go to Niagara College I would not turn eighteen until October 26. That did not stop me from drinking. (Eighteen was still the drinking age back then, although I think it might have been changed to nineteen around that time.) In any case at no time (after high school) was my drinking illegal. This is not to say it was not inappropriate.
I was not conscious of it being a coping mechanism, a way to feel a peace inside that I otherwise could not feel. It just seemed like the thing to do as a college freshman, strange looks, blackouts, and even a warning or two, notwithstanding.
What was I hiding from then? It would be many years before I saw the sexual abuse for what it was. I do not recall feeling latent trauma from elementary school. No, it was the more immediate discomfort of being around complete strangers, new classmates, coupled with the youthful feelings of immortality, awakening sexuality and drinking-as-ritual that found me increasingly fogged under the haze of alcohol.
One of my early solutions, in retrospect, to my being gay was to dive head-long into a fundamentalist church for a couple of years – adding a level of self-hate and unspoken hopes of exorcism.
The drinking continued, off and on, intensifying through my coming out in 1981, through my working days (‘Aren’t all journalists drunks?’ I rationalized), and up to the time I began to try to stop drinking and I tested HIV-positive in 1989.
I need to grow into the idea that what happened to me as a child, and later, does not make me who I am today. It has certainly influenced how I have interacted with the world but I am not merely a sum of past traumas.
Thanks for the comments Jeremy. (This was the conclusion of the original post yesterday.) As alone as we are in our traumatic times I know that I am not alone today in recovery.
I am reading a couple of helpful books. I lie. I wouldn’t be bipolar were I not reading at least three helpful books :)
Tom Wootton’s The Bipolar Advantage (although I have lost interest in it for the moment as I read the two others), The Dual Disorders Recovery Book from Hazelden and Vastly More Than That – Stories of Lesbians & Gay Men In Recovery by Guy Kettelhack, also published by Hazelden.
I am seeing the “cunning, baffling and powerful” in my disease(s).
When I was being treated for acute post-traumatic stress disorder, following my 2003 accident, and thought – once and for all – that I was facing the demons of my sexual abuse, I let myself believe that this was the reason why I drank. With that piece of the puzzle found it seemed to me, thanks to a disease that loves such self-deception, that I could drink again. That is logic only an alcoholic could come up with!
So I did.
After a couple of years of PTSD treatment I began to realize that, while no longer depressed thanks to a sedating anti-depressant, I was manic. I didn’t have that word for it yet, however. To me, Doctor Kenn, it just seemed like a pleasant absence of depression.
Alas it was, so another psychiatrist concluded, bipolar disorder (specifically bipolar II). Nothing to be alarmed about yet, he assured me, just take a different medication.
It worked. Trouble was, however, that it ought not be taken under the influence. I obeyed the guidelines on those occasions when some moderate drinking went late into the evening.
After Craig died, however, and I was doctor and alcoholic I let the bipolar med go for a while. I was sufficiently frightened of mixing it with booze and more than snared by alcoholism again to let any fears of bipolar disorder take a back seat.
Now I see that I can be sober, take my psych meds, and stop the chicken-and-egg debate about the relative severity of each disease – the list of which, of course, also includes HIV and type-2 diabetes!