2012: Leif on heroin
2016: Leif in lurve
My sober date is September 23rd, which, coincidentally, is also my middle brother’s birthday. Zach has always been my harshest critic.
On Christmas Day, 2012, Zach staged an informal intervention in our Chicago living room after a particularly brutal Christmas Eve, during which I drank a bottle of champagne and told Luke’s Japanese teacher my life story in explicit detail over holiday dinner. The next morning, Zach said that if I didn’t change, he would remove me from his life. He said I was an embarrassment. A disaster. He couldn’t handle it.
My plan was to move back to Minneapolis from Chicago (where I’d gone to treatment and subsequently relapsed) on January 1, 2013. First, though, I would wreck myself on New Year’s Eve in Milwaukee with booze, speed, and hallucinogens. On New Year’s Day, I sat through breakfast with my friends, brainstorming ways to kill myself. I was sober for the next 20 months.
I will never again read a book about mental illness by someone who doesn’t suffer from it. Yesterday morning, I found my mother’s copy of a book on borderline personality disorder that I’ve long resisted reading because of its name: I Hate You — Don’t Leave Me. I decided to peruse a few chapters, hoping they might shed some light on the increased rage I’ve been experiencing. This was a mistake.
A few paragraphs in, the shame was dripping like sweat down my body. The borderline’s outbursts of rage are as unpredictable as they are frightening… Most therapists will, whenever possible, try to limit the number of borderline patients they treat.
It’s been a bad two weeks. Two of the worst weeks of my life, honestly. But I wouldn’t take back anything that’s happened. It’s changed me. I can feel it.
Here’s my truth: I know I’ve been a shitty person. I’ve been an emotional bulldozer. I’ve been a train wreck. I’ve been jealous, manipulative, selfish, impulsive, and careless. I’ve lured in men like tunafish, only to let them suffocate on my deck.
But I am not, at my core, a shitty person. I am not an emotional bulldozer. I am not a train wreck. I can say this with absolute certainty because there is no absolute certainty when it comes to human beings. We are nebulous creatures. If you disagree — if you’ve tried to ossify yourself as this or that — I feel sorry for you. Dynamism is beautiful. It’s why our loved ones stick around when we do shitty things.
I want to tell you about a very stupid and embarrassing thing I did this morning. (If my shame list was still being written, this would be on it.) When I got home from Milwaukee last night, I squeezed ketchup and mustard all over my face and took some pictures of the aftermath in one of many personal attempts to challenge aesthetic conventions. And then – big mistake – I posted it on social media. It went mostly “unliked” and, feeling humiliated, I deleted it. I do this quite often. I post a photo, wait to see if it’s worth any social capital, and, if it’s not, I virtually incinerate it. I then spend a few hours fighting the urge to put a Jewel-Osco bag over my head.
How’s that for an unflattering truth? I’m mortified to confess that I’ve enlisted myself in this battle for online attention, but I’m doing it because you’ve probably enlisted yourself, too.
Holy shiz, yesterday was Big Mouth’s first year anniversary. Time continues to mystify me.
I started this blog shortly after my wedding was called off and I returned home from Europe. The first post was both an apology and a goodbye letter — an apology because I felt like I fucked a lot of people over in my runaway bridehood and a goodbye letter because I would soon sprint back to Europe under the guise of needing to “find myself” — the empty claim of every 20-something runaway ever.
I wasn’t as candid then as I am now and there’s finally enough distance for me to be honest about what happened.
Shame sucks. It’s seriously one of the most detrimental feelings a human being can experience. Its goal is to cut you off from the rest of the world so that no one else has to see how horrible/disturbed/disgusting you really are. Shame shows itself in red faces, clenched fists, and lacking eye contact.
Guilt, when it’s justified, can be useful. Guilt inspires positive change and keeps us from repeating the same mistakes. Don’t know the difference between guilt and shame? Guilt is feeling shitty about something you’ve done that violates your own moral code. Shame is going from “I did a shitty thing” to “I am a shitty person.” Shame revolves around the idea that there is something inherently wrong with you. It’s triggered by rejection, by ostracization, by embarrassment… any number of things, really.
Guilt promotes forward movement. Shame keeps you stuck and scared and small. Shame prohibits growth.
A few months ago, a friend suggested that I write something about shame. I’ve resisted doing so until now because a.) shame is an enormous topic b.) it sucks and c.) it permeates pretty much every facet of my life, so WHERE WOULD I EVEN BEGIN???!!!
(Caps aren’t appropriate for professional writing, Leif.)
(Fuck you, subconscious parenthetical voice.)