Monday, July 13, 2009

Integral Recovery - Depression

A brutally honest and hopeful from John at Integral Recovery.

Depression: My Disease

While most of my work and writing in the last few years has focused on chemical dependency and addiction, my personal struggle and life-threatening illness has been depression. When I say depression, I am not talking about a case of the blues or being bummed out for a bit, but mind-crushing, soul-crushing hell. A pit so deep, a place so dark, that death beckons like a lover and the promise of non-existence offers a final hope. My struggle for life went on for a decade. During this time, hope was lost and I felt useless to myself, God, and others. Though my deepest prayer and desire was to find a path of service, the end was approaching and I had no strength left to hold on.

Why didn’t I end my life when it seemed the reasonable, the honorable, the only sane thing left to do? The answer was clear. My beloved older brother had preceded me by committing suicide in the living room of my home. The only certainty I had was that I would not, could not ,do that to my family-not another son a suicide. God, please kill me, because I cannot. He didn’t and I am still here.

Looking back, it seems my first experience in the darkness happened in the early 90’s while I was living in the San Francisco Bay area. It felt like spiritual despair and physical exhaustion. In this fog I was given a gift. I found I was a writer of songs. So, I sang and I wrote and I played my guitar and it seemed that the gift of music kept many of my devils at bay… for awhile. Fast forward to Southern Utah 8 years later. After moving to Utah and immersing myself in the wilderness and the therapeutic wilderness industry, the bottom fell out of my life. I will spare you the gory details but let me enumerate the specific blows and stressors:

  • My dog was run over by a car.
  • My brother killed himself in my living room.
  • I lost my job.
  • I lost my relationship through infidelity and betrayal with a trusted friend.
  • I lost my home.

To use Integral speak, I was fucked in all four quadrants. I left and began to roam-Texas, California, Tennessee. The pain and shock were completely overwhelming. All the therapeutic techniques I knew seemed pitiful and inadequate, like trying to stop a tidal wave with an umbrella. So, I wandered and pondered, and found no respite. I wore sunglasses all the time so that people would not have to see my eyes, which appeared blank and vacuous to me, like open graves. I remember going to gyms a lot, trying to work out my pain and suffering by intensely moving iron. I think it kept me anchored in my body and the world and probably saved my life, or at least kept me alive-barely. The exact chronology of these year is unclear to me; I have dark and murky flashes of memory but no clear timeline. Eventually, I wound up at my parents’ home in Texas. As they say, home is where if you show up, they cannot and will not turn you away. I was a wreck.

A pattern to the depression began to emerge: I could function in the mornings, but sometime in the afternoon the darkness would fall, lifting again only after dusk. A darkness so grim and complete that all I could do was Iie in my room with drawn shades until it passed. The darkness seemed to last a thousand years; time was warped and slowed down. I could not read, I could not pray, I could not listen to music. I simply suffered in Hell. To contemplate even getting up to go to the bathroom or getting a drink of water felt like the energetic equivalent of climbing Everest.

I had a few hours of respite in the evening and morning hours and then I’d go through it all again. I remember the terror and the dread of watching the clock and awaiting the torments of the damned. Slowly a plan began to unfold. I would work on myself to try and heal myself in the good hours that were afforded me. I lifted weights, went to early morning aerobic classes, took vitamins and supplements, entered therapy, practiced Chi Gong-all in the morning before the crash. I began to resurrect a little. I got a part in a musical where I played the Elvis character in a hometown production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” It gave me fellowship, purpose, and some creative direction. This helped and the crashes diminished somewhat.

Looking back, I suppose it was my first attempt to devise a sort of Integral Practice, one born out of desperation, which certainly seems to be, in my case, “the mother of invention.” The problem was that I had no guiding model of healing, so I devised a tourniquet to staunch the flow of my life blood and headed back into the fray. But I didn’t keep up the practices that seemed to be helping, and for the most part abandoned them when I felt a little relief, throwing myself back into my life and work in a grim, fatalistic attempt to be of service while I still had a little strength left.

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