When I was young my therapist told me I would need to be treating depression that could possibly follow me all the days of my life. Yet people would tell me, if only you could see how other people see you, how beautiful you are, you wouldn’t be sad anymore. That same therapist, who learned I was obsessed with a facial feature I was sure everyone saw as totally deformed, translating to my teenage self as being disgusting and definitely unlikeable, told me I should just focus on the features about myself that I liked instead.
As if that would make all the racing thoughts that so often clouded my distorted mind go away.
It was at times like these I hated being beautiful. Even though most days I never really believed they thought that I was. Nor did I believe that I was. It was times like these I would begin to scan over the entirety of my body and point out all my features I disliked. Starting from my curly toes, as pointed out by best friends in innocent joking laughter, to my “shapely” legs that were formed from too many basketball line drills. Toes that I would hide behind burly sandals that would conceal them. A sport I would stop playing so my developing body wouldn’t morph into an athletic form that could steal my hopes of the perfect twiggy girl look as seen in Teen magazine. And I would move slowly up from there.
Each part of myself that had reasons to dislike I would write down like a shopping list.
I don’t know when I started to fully grasp the reality that depression would need to be accepted as a part of who I was if we were going to grow old together. And sometimes this truth is something with which I still struggle. But I do know that for many more years than I care to admit, I found a way to hide from it. And I hid from it so well for a time, that it almost stopped me in my tracks of ever being able to grow old at all. Never did I think about treating depression like I should.
When my sister was killed by a drunk driving drug dealer a month before my sixteenth birthday, I was the one to take the call from the hospital. But it wasn’t like the call almost exactly a year prior, which was her first alcohol involved car accident that rendered her broken and comatose for days in ICU and left her traumatized brain forced to learn how to talk and walk again. This time there was a chilling sense of urgency on the other end of the call. How far away are you from the hospital? How soon can you get here? It is important you come now.
My mom and brother are the ones who rushed to the hospital. I had a neighbor friend spending the night because her family was out of town. And I needed to go to school. I needed normal. I needed to pray to God that he wouldn’t let something worse happen than what the past year had already put upon our still aching family that had narrowly escaped losing her the first time.
I clearly remember that day. Yet for many years after it was just a blur. Sitting silently numb in the bathtub waiting. Waiting for the opening of the front door to overwhelm me with a sense of much desired and tearful relief. Or alter the path of my life forevermore. And for me and my already suffering family, and the innocence of a young girl that slowly drained with the bath water, it would turn out to be the latter. The sunken look of their faces made the words that followed unnecessary, but I remember them to this very day.
She didn’t make it this time…
All the dreams of what my life was supposed to be was shattered forever. In just those six little words. And here would begin that tumultuous relationship with depression and all the negative attributes it can turn itself into that I would be forced to know. For the rest of my life and up until not so long ago would I acknowledge it.
And the sad yet ironic truth about this unexpected turn of several chapters of my life, is that I wrote them to be about honoring the life of my sister and all that I pretended she stood for within it. In the simplest terms of my mind’s eye, my sister was the life of any party. Her smile lit up the room and people were drawn to her like an addiction. An addiction I would soon unknowingly make into my own.
In her 19 short years of life, my sister knew how to have fun. She made people laugh in ways that were genuinely her own. Her heart was pure and open to all who dared to be a part of it, and there was never a shortage of those who tried. In all her ways of natural beauty, she was that alluring. And perhaps in ways associated with being a party going social drinking teenager, or a much deeper genetic inclination, alcohol had recently become a partner in her daringly charming ways. At least in these two life events that ultimately stole her away from mine.
It didn’t matter that I went on to be one of the few people from both sides of my family to graduate college from a major university, or that I followed what I defined as the “typical” societal pattern of graduation, marriage, career and parenthood in that well thought out predestined order.
I made sure to honor my sister and our alcoholic counterpart every step of the way.
Together we spent many years living out what my sister no longer could. Years of working amongst the endless party scene I found through the restaurant industry. Serving cocktails and crab to those along for the same ride and where I eventually met a strikingly handsome man who would join me on this adventurous journey of alcohol induced living at its finest.
Our friends who also had children gave us reasons to celebrate many occasions where we could enjoy our libations under the appearance of what many from the outside would see as traditional. At least until it became clear the tradition was secondary to the reason we celebrated. Trash cans overflowing with liquor and beer bottles higher than the wrapping paper from the party gifts of a child would blatantly give it away.
It would be several years before more life events of desperately fighting diseases suffered by three of our faltering parents over a short span of time that would cause depression to surface beyond my ability to contain it with just the amnesia of a drink. So I begged for relief through pharma drugs because it worked for some of those around me. And despite all the incessant warnings from physicians, friends and family, that wouldn’t keep me from drinking. And then I couldn’t stop. The two poisons fused together overpowered my mind, stealing chunks of memory and rationale and rendered me powerless over any life worth living. I lost my career, almost tore apart my family and nearly ended my disastrous life, all that was supposed to honor my sister.
Closest to death I will ever be without dying is how I describe the last year and a half before I was able to break free from my addiction. And it was only by the same grace of God who I pleaded with in that fateful bathtub many years ago, pleading for him to keep my life “normal” because I had already taken on too much to handle, that I was shown that my story was not ready to end and I had no choice but to survive.
My story needed to be told. Even to only just one. As a new way to honor my sister. In hopes that someone else’s story doesn’t have to be written with the same ending as hers.
Or almost as mine…
Who do you know that has a life story? A story of how they thought their life should go, but through an unfortunate twist of real life circumstances, gets derailed because they had yet learned to finish the pages they weren’t prepared to write? Even if at least for a brief moment in time?
If I am asked, who do you know that has a life story that gets altered from its initially predestined path? Well at least besides myself? To be honest, I have never met anyone who doesn’t have one. Some just write it differently than I…
So in the sincerest honor of my sister I ask this question.
What is your life story?
And how can it help someone else change the ending of theirs?
~ Kel B.