There is a fine line between “I miss you because you are gone” and “I miss you because you aren’t coming back.”  Between “Your stuff is cluttering my living room” and “Your stuff is the last thing I have of you” and the realization of how empty everything will be without that fucking clutter.

That’s the point where you can’t go back.  When you miss the clutter and the bickering and the lying, sighing, back to back in bed unhappy, you know it’s done.  It only takes a moment to yearn for what you wouldn’t notice being gone if you knew it was going to come back, and that moment is when it all happens.

Loneliness is instant gratification when you break up and you still love someone.  You don’t have to wait and miss them on their birthday or your anniversary or the day of the week when you first had breakfast together.  Why not do it now instead, eat it fresh, raw?

When massive stars run out of fuel, first they bloat, as if trying to make up for something.  Their tinier, hotter companions steal from them, their very matter, their selves, twisting in a gravitational knot, until BOOM the whole thing ends with a comic book explosion and a neutron star spinning itself dizzy.  Important things destroy the fabric of the universe and build it again, but in the end, the stars will wink out and stillness will fall on us all.

Whenever you have slept with someone for years, and are left alone in bed, there is a hollow, and some night, no matter how hard you try, you will roll into it.  This is one of the saddest feelings in the world.  Waking up there with empty arms.  It hurts down to your marrow.

So you sleep on the couch with the lights on and no matter what you do you spend hour on hour wading through the swamp of your misery, and once in a while you scoop a cent from the water, a wish that you threw in a long time ago.  There is so much to cash in, but first, so much to lose.

What drinking feels like when you’re alcoholic

A year in to sobriety, albeit with several one-time relapses, I am still in the period of what’s called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.  The body can still have physiological cravings for alcohol even after this long, and mine does.  When these cravings pop up, tremors in my hands still appear and I feel an overwhelming sense of pressure, accompanied by the insidious certainty that a few drinks would make it all go away for a couple of hours.

It’s a subject I’m reluctant to talk about, because it makes the people around me fearful, which scares me.  Generally, it seems that despite all the platitudes about asking for support (about which I’ve written before) the recovering alcoholic, especially past the acute phase, is pretty much expected to go it alone and pretend that everything is fine.  The guilt of even having cravings, let alone relapsing, is enormous: a sickening, drowning sensation that increases the drive to drink; a sense of intimate personal failure.  Encouragement is hard to come by; judgment is not.  Understanding of and sympathy for the addict’s experience is rare.

I’m hoping that if I am able to describe what goes through my head on the sporadic occasion that I do relapse, I can reduce some of this stigma and help others to speak openly about their experiences.  I can only speak for myself, although my understanding is informed by, in rehab, hearing many stories from other addicts that tend to agree with my own conclusions.

Using a substance of choice is incomparably different for an addict than for a non-addict.  Through force of habit, psychologically and physiologically, a huge set of feelings and circumstances are intricately tied up with cravings and bad choices.  Certain stores are triggers.  Certain foods are triggers.  Some people are triggers.  So are some subjective experiences: fear, uncertainty, loneliness, despair.  Automatic thoughts are entwined in the addicts brain that obsess over alcohol, or another substance: terrible sirens who proffer sanctuary from a stormy inner and outer world.

Because of these entangled threads of craving, the act of relapse is a powerful one.  There is a moment when the sirens succeed, when a decision is made to drink, with the full but rationalized knowledge that the single end goal is to get so drunk that nothing matters.  It’s a precipice.  To find a way to turn back once you leap is rare.

There is the moment when you purchase the alcohol.  It’s like you can almost feel it in your veins already.  Your mouth waters, your stomach grumbles, you already wrinkle your face at the anticipated taste of cheap straight liquor pouring over your tongue (because that’s the quickest, least expensive way to get fucked up)– equal parts revolting and relieving.  All you can think about is getting somewhere where you can open the bottle and chug.

And then there’s that moment, the most important of all.  The liquor hits your lips, your tongue, your throat, your stomach.  It burns.  It feels like a necessary scourge, eating away what feels like necrotic tissue in the chest, cauterizing all the wounds.  It feels like pure power.  It’s done; no one can stop you.  It’s a bad choice, you still feel overwhelming guilt, but it’s your choice, it’s done, and even before it kicks in it is exhilarating beyond description.  Every craving you’ve had leading up to the act is justified by that moment.  It’s like taking off a mask.  It’s like coming home.  It’s like throwing in the towel.

It starts to work, just a few minutes after the first sip if your stomach is empty.  You feel it in your legs first.  The hot feeling from your stomach grows downward and starts to dissolve you.  Well-being drowns you, insistent, surrounding and withering the black thoughts that still lie beneath.  Every bad effect drugs have ever had on you is voided.  Nothing matters.  All you want is more, one more, one more, until you can’t anymore, until you’re passed out or puking or both.

The deep-seated shame increases exponentially, leaving you feeling like a little kid who pooped on the floor not once but a hundred times.  And what’s the solution to shame and self-loathing?  Another drink, of course.  More oblivion, please.

You can’t avoid knowing that you will crash and burn when the miracle drug wears off.  If you drink multiple days in a row, you will go through acute withdrawal again, which gets worse and more dangerous every time.  The pain will return, and so will the guilt.  After you pass out, you eventually wake up, in horror at the sober world and your sober self.

And sometimes you just want someone to forgive you, to tell you it will be okay.  But no one wants to hear your sin.  No one wants you to be less than they expect you to be.

If you want your boy to be a “real boy”, dress him in pink

The important question about gender differences is not whether they’re real.  It’s whether they matter.

First of all, when we talk about gender, we have to be clear what it is we mean, because the topic of sex and gender is much more nuanced than our day-to-day language yet conveys.

Most often, “gender differences” seems to refer to a binary understanding of gender:  “People born with a penis are male.  People born with a vagina are female.  This is both their sex and their gender; this is the natural way of things that is necessarily the case.”

So for a minute, let’s pretend that’s true.  Let’s ignore the incidence of intersex people and transgender people and the millions who, like me, identify as gender queer.  Even though it’s as misguided as claiming an absolute boundary between races and ignoring the existence of mixed race people, let’s claim that genetics or biology determines that there are Males and Females and, to an extent, the characteristics of each category, which differ in key ways.

Even if all that were true, in today’s society, where binary gender norms are enforced, whether they have some real basis simply doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter whether, say, hormone levels control people’s predilections and abilities.  Trying to pinpoint such differences is like doing a study in which all blue-eyed children are taught to speak only Chinese and all brown-eyed children are taught to speak only Italian, and then the linguistic differences between eye colors are analyzed.  Any “natural differences” are canceled out by the ones we create.

If we assume that there are “natural” gender differences, there shouldn’t be a need to police them.  Women shouldn’t need to be brought up to be a certain kind of woman, or men a certain kind of man.  Given total gender freedom and equality, we’ll find that they gravitate toward certain clothing, certain fields of work, certain relationships, all on their own.  It would still be in everyone’s best interest to create an absolutely gender neutral society so that these differences could freely flourish.

Using the supposed existence of the gender binary as an excuse to raise, educate and treat people differently shows disingenuousness– an insecurity about the scientific fundamentals of the theory, covered up with a desperate attempt to rationalize a belief ingrained since birth.  I challenge people who honestly believe there are Men and Women who are Different to have the courage to work for real equality in the hope that, on a fair playing field, their ideas will prove accurate.  Anything less isn’t science or even theory, it’s dogma.

When it comes down to it, binary gender theory isn’t about acknowledging differences.  It’s about enforcing similarities.

A pocket guide to mood swings [trigger warning]

For all your mood swing identification needs.

Possible responses to breaking a glass:

  • Manic:  “Fucking fuck, I do not have time for this, I am TRYING to get things DONE if everything would just stop getting in my WAY for half a goddamn minute.  I am too smart and too important to be cleaning up fucking GLASS.”  Kicks the floor, stubs toe.  Stays up all night researching what kinds of glasses are least breakable, while also doing an intense workout, watching TV, listening to the radio, reading articles, being pissed off with the TV and radio and articles, and hatching plans to hop a freight train going West and subsist on itinerant work for a year.  Buys an expensive set of “unbreakable” glasses.  Walks on the glass and doesn’t notice cut feet until they become infected.
  • Hypomanic:  “There is a reason I broke this plate.  I just need to figure out what it is and it will change my life.  This gives me a good opportunity to clean the floor, now that I’m down here it seems very dirty, and while I’m at it I’m going to wash the walls and windows and disinfect everything, cleaning is fun, woohoo!”  Puts on loud music and skips around cleaning the entire place while coming up with hundreds of creative ideas; rushes to try to pen them as fast as they arrive.
  • Depressed:  “Fuck, not again.  Why does this always have to happen?  I am such a clumsy retard.  Now I have one less glass, which means I’ll have to wash the dishes more often, and I’m going to have to spend hours cleaning this mess up and probably still end up with glass splinters in my feet.  You know what, fuck it, I can’t deal with this right now.”  Huddles on the couch under a blanket pretending to watch TV.
  • Very depressed:  Bursts into ragged sobs and runs to hide in bed, overwhelmed by the horror and absurdity of the world.

Thoughts on being asked to a party:

  • Manic:  “I’m trying to WORK here and you just made me lose track of the ineffably brilliant train of thought I was following.  If you can’t keep up, at least get out of the way, why can’t you understand how important this is, it’s all so simple!  I guess you just aren’t chosen like I am.  You can’t know what I know.”
  • Hypomanic:  “Yes!  Let’s go dancing!  Let’s stay up all night and go trestling* and come up with a theory of everything!  You’re the best, and I’m pretty great too!  I don’t even need sleep or food!  Everything is fantastic!”
  • Depressed:  “I really want to go and have a good time.  It’s not like people ask me to things very often, because let’s face it, I’m pretty shitty really.  But I know if I get there I’ll feel alienated and anxious and will freeze up and turn red all over and sweat like crazy and have to leave right away, which will be humiliating.  Great, not likely I’ll get invited to anything soon since I’m declining this time.”
  • Very depressed:  “They’re only inviting me to make fun of me, or out of pity, or both.  If I go, I’ll just ruin it for everyone else.  Why am I even here?  What’s the point of all this?  Sometimes I wish I could put a bullet through my brain just to make it stop hurting so much.  I wish the sky would just open and swallow me up and no one would ever even know I existed.  Going to a party is the most miserable thing anyone could do.  If people see me they will hate me and I won’t be able to stand it.”

Manner of speaking:

  • Manic:  Fast enough to be nearly unintelligible, with thoughts streaming out faster than anyone can keep up with.  Total inability to control speech.  Replete with swearing and offensiveness, without a thought for the consequences.
  • Hypomanic:  Fast, boisterous, difficult to interrupt, fixated on special interests.
  • Depressed:  Slow, flat, filled with sighs and groans and more complaining than intended; visible lack of interest in interaction coupled with a yearning to be understood and reassured.
  • Very depressed:  As little as possible; muttering.

The bottom line:  Next time you see these symptoms, know that they are not personal and in no way reflect on you as a friend, partner or family member.

There is no question that bipolar people are difficult to know and care for.  Our experience is often described as a roller coaster, but that’s really too tame.  It’s like a roller coaster where every inch ahead is shrouded in impenetrable fog, and most of the time when you go down a hill, which, of course, always happens eventually, your car smashes to bits and you have no choice but to rebuild it from scratch and get back on, or throw up your hands and walk away.  Half of us will try to kill ourselves at some point in our lives.  Half of those will succeed.

By recognizing what traits are affected by our mood swings, though, you can learn to see the person underneath the mood, or so we hope.  We’d like to think it’s worth the effort.

To paraphrase Season 8, Episode 1 of the rebooted Doctor Who, no matter how scared you are of others’ mental illness, they will always be more scared than you.

*The hobby of climbing a train trestle as a train passes over while yelling and holding on really tight.