Victoria Jelinek


XXII: Radio Play

We are taught to consume. And that’s what we do. But if we realized that there really is no reason to consume, that it’s just a mind set, that it’s just an addiction, then we wouldn’t be out there stepping on people’s hands climbing the corporate ladder of success. River PhoenixLove in Recovery

In my opinion, the best humor has a tragic core. And, what better source for dark and amusing material than addiction? Think of Carrie Fisher with her book (then film) Postcards from the Edge. Or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mall Rats, or Get Him to the Greek.

Addiction forms the setting for Radio 4’s fantastic six-part series Love in Recovery. It’s such a funny and interesting radio play that after a friend sent me a link to one show, I plundered the BBC I Player back catalogue. I have both laughed and cried on occasion while listening. It’s sharp and fresh, even as the story of immoderation in alcohol is age-old.

There are lines throughout that I have pondered after each of the 15-minute vignettes, such as, “The hardest thing in the world is just getting through…” Or, “I waited to feel better…it never came.” Or, “There is no cure. You will never be fixed. It’s horrible. But it’s just the way it is.” These motifs speak to me. The illogical sense of complete failure, disappointment, and a life full of more regrets than triumphs are familiar. That unhappiness, insecurity, and the sense that I’m not what I might have been had I been someone else (if that makes any sense to a rational person) is the albatross I’ll carry forever. That drugs and alcohol blissfully stop my brain from thinking too much. The characters in Love in Recovery feel much the same way. It rings ‘true’ to me. And it should. The writer, Pete Jackson, has an interesting backstory, which provides the lynchpin for the radio play’s authenticity.

Amidst the distress and pain is much humor. There is the subtle (sic) nod to the great British ‘art’ of “grumbling,” as well as slang, dialects, and cultural references that contribute to a sense of the everyday and the ‘everyman.’ Like Andy, for example, the needy group leader, who’s constantly offering cookies (biscuits) to the participants with the enticement that, “They’re from M&S.” And, as is often the case in the best Brits, humor coexists with self-deprecation and sadness. For example, one episode finds Julie (Sue Johnston) giving an unwaveringly powerful portrait of a woman who attempted to find happiness at the bottom of a glass after her husband of 40 years left her: “He went off with the cleaner, who ironically turned out to be a dirty bitch.”

All the actors are stellar. And, the sentiment resonates. It’s fundamentally about how even though you feel alone, that you have the worst difficulties, that you are the worst of the worst, you’re not. That even as you have some slim understanding that this vicious voice telling you these horrible things is false, and the facts belie this ‘self-speech,’ there are others who also find life hard. However, by sharing our stories, our difficulties, our successes, our failures and our disappointments, we can help one another take one day at a time. This works for anything, really, whatever the issue. Addiction takes many forms – alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, fornicating, exercise, and work. Or all of the above. Perhaps, as is the case for me, it’s ‘simply’ the compulsion to excess at all times, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Both substances and through actions. Big happy. Big sad. Big success. Big flop. For me at least, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my current struggle for moderation. My own floundering objective to be ‘balanced’ also seems to reflect modern society’s own battle with itself, arguably making addiction a universal story. For me, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching films, and looking at paintings isn’t just for diversion. They provide insights into the human condition. And through this, greater understanding of the world we live in, as well as ourselves. It’s comforting to find a sense of propinquity in the world. And, one can find beauty in ugliness, just as there’s humor in the darkness.

 

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XX: Dog Days

My fashion philosophy is if you’re not covered in dog hair, your life is empty. Elayne Boosler

border collieMy beloved dog, a bright Border Collie, is having a hard time adjusting to my rationed cigarettes, alcohol, and consequent change of habits. When I get up in the morning and head downstairs, she greets me at the bottom of the stairs then goes and sits in the kitchen while I make my coffee. Once I’ve poured my coffee, she heads to the back door and waits till I open it in order to go out for a smoke with me. Whenever I head to the kitchen for something she does the same thing. She knows I like something to drink with my cigarettes. So, she gets up from her bed, sits and waits for me to finish in the kitchen, then heads to the back door waiting for me to open it and go outside with her to smoke. Every time I rifle through my purse, she gets up from wherever she’s lying and goes to the back door and waits for me to exit for a cigarette that I would normally have retrieved from it. After dinner, once we’ve cleared the table, she goes to the back door waiting for me to exit, wine in hand, to have my ‘after dinner’ cigarette. When my son has gone to bed and I normally return back downstairs for a phone conversation to the states (time difference), drinks and much smoking, she gets up as soon as I take the phone from the cradle, she stretches, and heads to the back door waiting for me to open it.

I finally ‘clocked’ her behavior last night when I was clearing the dinner table and began cleaning the dishes. Normally, I would have gone for my after dinner smoke before doing this, and normally she would have gone and stood at the door waiting for me after the clearing of the table. But this time she didn’t. She lay on the floor and looked at me. She eyed my every move, but did not get up to go to the back door. Also, I noticed that she has taken to lying at the bottom of the stairs after I go up with my son for bedtime. I haven’t gone back down after putting him to bed in recent days for a phone call or anything. I now prefer to go to bed early, like a farmer might, ‘cause I can’t drink and smoke anyway. It makes the day shorter. One week in and she realizes there’s a new regiment going on (smart dog) but she’s confused. Maybe a little saddened that our rituals together are changed. Then I realized, “She’s a creature of habit, of course! And, for five years – her entire life – she has been my companion in the rain, sun, snow, cold, heat for my frequent cigarettes throughout the day and night. Cigarettes that were habitual – with coffee. With the second coffee. Before lunch. After lunch. In the middle of the afternoon with another coffee. With my first cocktail at ‘cocktail hour.’ The subsequent drinks. After dinner. Before bed while on the phone. And now that’s over. At least I hope it is.  “Well, it’s messing with my head, too, my dear doggie. We’ll get on with it together as best we can. Something tells me that you’ll break the habit much easier than me.”

 



December 21, 2018 – Cheerful Thoughts

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. The fog is like a cage without a key.” Elizabeth Wurtzel

lions breathing through a cageI love Christmas because it seems to bring out the humane in people. The individualism of the world is dismissed for a moment as people look outside of themselves to be kind and helpful to others. For most of us, it’s a time of loved ones and good food…ceremonies and lights. For many others, however, it’s a time of year when we feel we must pretend to be happy when we’re not. How does one begin to explain depression to a person who doesn’t know it first hand? How does one explain it even to oneself? As I consider how to describe it, a barrage of words come to mind: fatigue, panic, sadness, anger, confusion, suspicion, hesitation, reticence, loneliness, regret, fear, isolation, hopelessness, self-hatred, and an interminable longing to simply have it stop. It’s bleak.

I’ve suffered depression since I was an adolescent. Now, however, I somewhat understand the ways-and-means to avoid a rough bout of it – defined by me as the inability or wish to do anything but to be left alone to sleep, and when that’s not possible, the desire to achieve an altered state through substances in order to dull my senses and make things tolerable. To avoid these terrible times, I know to do a few things when I can feel it’s becoming hazardous, usually indicated by my having excessively destructive ‘self speak.’ I take a walk outside each day. I write each day. I watch comedies rather than dramas, and read novels that won’t delve into any existential battle or dystopian reality. I sleep more and drink more water. I also avoid certain types of people when possible. For me, I find it too challenging to spend time with people who exacerbate my sense of failure. People who seem happy and say positive things in an upbeat manner all the time. Privately, I find myself feeling that something is even more terrible about me that I’m miserable whereas obviously it’s possible that such contented people exist. At the same time, I have  disdain for these types of people, thinking they’re simple-minded or, worse, they’re false. This depresses me more.

Often, there is an internal struggle as I imagine a choice to either avoid depression or succumb to it. Part of me does not want to make it ‘better’ for myself, to do the things I know will help, but, rather, wants to delve into the monstrous abyss of it because I feel I deserve it and I’m too exhausted to fight. Another part of me thinks it’s utterly foolish to imagine I can escape it anyway. Sometimes I pretend for others that I’m not feeling as I do in the hope that it will go away if I simply ignore it. I know others prefer this. It never works. I went through a period of AA decades ago. One of the things that the group talked about is how those who suffer depression attempt to diminish their feelings through excessive drinking and/or the taking of drugs. Not only does this not lessen it, they asserted, the feelings of unhappiness become addictive (as do AA meetings!). I still consider this, but I don’t agree entirely. Indeed, I agree that unhappiness is a richly complex feeling that becomes habitual. I also think there’s credence to the idea that your brain creates ‘pathways,’ if you will, to well-used ‘roads’ of thinking when in doubt. Certainly a degree of self-absorption plays a role. However, happiness is also a rich and complex concept, with a plethora of words to describe subtleties of the feeling, so by rights, isn’t it equally addictive? The societal pursuit of it seems to be. Ultimately, I think that imagining depression is a choice, one that is created and perpetuated by the depressive person, means the onus is on them for how badly they feel. This type of thinking exacerbates the suffering that the depressive is already experiencing. It also doesn’t seem fair when it’s likely a matter of wonky chemistry and predisposition. Believing it’s ‘simply’ a choice is akin to the archaic and ignorant idea that depression is a ‘luxury.’

Luxury is too fun for it to be likened to depression. While I think there are elements of choice in the sense that the depressive can work to inhibit a full onslaught of depression, moving it from the caliber of ‘high fidelity’ to ‘low fidelity,’ I think it’s a disease that people don’t like to think about despite its prevalence. If one had cancer (other than lung cancer) then people would not blame the one who has it. Despite the progress made to understand and consequently reduce the stigma of depression, there’s still a stigma attached to it. I think it’s because people want those around them to reflect their illusion that life  has meaning and is ‘good.’ One only has to turn to Instagram or Facebook to see that the appearance of a perfect and happy life is a common objective. Ultimately, however, these are idle ruminations because once the curtain of depression descends, logic and reason do not enter. For me, depression is akin to a bad acid trip: one side of me recognizes that the perceptions and feelings are not ‘real’ and that I must simply wait for it to pass. The other side of me feels that my bleak perception of myself and the world, and the ‘inevitable’ outcomes for my emotions, are very real. It’s tortuous.

If you love someone that struggles with depression and you would like to support them, I suggest the following: keep a wide berth. Not really. In fact, try to let the depressive know (without being oppressively cloying) through verbal and non verbal actions, that they’re not completely alone and they do matter to someone. But don’t use platitudes, that’s horrible. Try to be honest. When in doubt, humor always helps.