—This has been a shit year in the country at large, and more on that later. But, for me, it’s been, in wholly unexpected ways, a bewilderingly good one. I’m not doing cartwheels, I’m not wealthy, or free from worries (about money, about health, about the people I love). But…
The end of 2016 was the lowest I’ve ever been in my life. In my head. Which, if you’ve ever known me, says quite a bit. Despite a lifelong and whole-other-tale aversion to the idea, I took antidepressants for the first time in my life, starting in January. It became necessary, is what I’ll leave it at. My long-suffering and indispensable therapist (named Bill, called “Doc,” in my ongoing attempt to deflect residual and increasingly irrelevant shame) walked me through the process—two other doctor visits, a little cash—and so I took my pill a day. And… “it’s worked” sounds glib, but, yeah, it has.
I also stopped drinking at the same time. Same day, actually. I’ve never liked to make myself a “thing” in talking about myself, so… here’s a short version. For two decades or more, I used alcohol (cheap beer, almost exclusively) to get through. Depression, or whatever it is, had dogged me my entire life. The ability to freely consume alcohol gradually and inexorably became my way to cope. In ways, I was the ideal drunk, in that I never got crazy, or violent, or irresponsible. My mind turned always inward, and my life did, too, with alcohol giving the retreat form, and ritual. Days were about surviving, then scurrying home in search of oblivion, and safety, of a kind I always recognized as exceptionally needy, and sort of heartbreakingly childish, when I could surface enough to consider.
The year (January 5 will be exactly that) has been marked by a surprisingly not-difficult withdrawal from all that wonted withdrawing. I started (pills—Prozac, 40mg), stopped (alcohol, completely) all at the same instant. And it was—fine. It makes me reflect that I must have been genetically lucky—with regard to alcohol, anyway. Once I made the decision, really made it, there was little bother with the sort of stereotypical white-knuckling, “walk faster past the beer cooler at the supermarket while averting your eyes” thing. I just stopped. Considering the response from the GP I had to see to get my shiny pills once he found out the extent of my alcohol consumption (both in duration and volume), I gather that he thinks I’m lucky, too.
I miss it. I just came from a good friend’s New Year’s Eve party where I’d have loved to drink as of old with good friends I don’t see often enough. I didn’t. I brought him a comically disreputable bottle of booze. I may choose to drink again, theoretically in the moderation that was always unthinkable when it was used—consciously or not—to get me through my days. I’d like to. Especially with good friends I don’t see often enough. But I didn’t on NYE, on my way to January 5 and that nice, round number that means something to me, for whatever reason.
I wrote all year, and for the second year in a row, that’s all I did to keep myself alive. And—I’m alive. Housed, fed, possessed of a vehicle and health care (thanks, Obama!), all thanks solely to the money I can make from my brain. Thanks to the A.V. Club, thanks to the Press Herald. Seriously. It helps that I don’t need much, or do much, but I’m calling this a win for Dennis nonetheless. I’m proud of myself. I am a professional writer, and I’m alive. I will most definitely take that.
My love, my angel, my Emily. She’s doing it, too. Writing. Living. Loving me, inexplicably. She’s always told me how proud she is of me, no matter what, and I’ve always believed her. But, this year, I feel like it’s easier for her to say that, maybe. I’m proud of that, too.
We got a cat. His name’s Cooper. And he’s made me happier than I’d thought possible. I’ve had a cat before (good ol’ Baldrick, RIP), but, as my kind sister Therese could attest once she took over his care once my life fell completely apart—that time—I never truly appreciated him. I’m going to spoil this little bastard fucking rotten, for his entire life. He’s my good little guy.
I’ve alienated the hell out of some people in my life, and, weirdly, I’m okay with that in a way I’ve never been. I’ve always been my angry, cause-happy self, but the events of this shit-cake of a year have driven me to not truly care about making people comfortable. (Even a family member or two. What are you gonna do?) I have a weird visibility online, so I use it. There’s a fascist simpleton bigot rapist Russian asset in the goddamned White House, and a controlling political party clearly determined to enable his dangerous, treasonous lunacy. So fuck it. Shit’s on. And it’s staying so.
Along those lines, while the election of said dipshit illiterate man-baby certainly helped precipitate the extremity of depression that saw me escalate my treatment thereof, this grotesque horror-clown show has also spurred me to greater engagement than ever before. An unexpected windfall at the start of the year saw me give more money to charities (the ACLU, SPLC, CAIR, Planned Parenthood, others) than, collectively, I ever have before. Beyond that, I marched with my friend and friend-hero Sam against Nazis in Boston. (I got heat stroke and he had to pull into a McDonald’s for an embarrassing post-march pit stop, but hey.)
I went to demonstrations. I held signs. I signed petitions. I made innumerable phone calls to my representatives (mainly the thoroughly hypocritical and disappointing Susan Collins), urgency quickly stripping my hatred of confrontation and cold calling in the face of the latest GOP bullshit. I started a monthly catalog of actions on this here blog, mainly, I think to reassure myself that I wouldn’t peter out in my resistance to this venal, racist, thoroughly un-American horsecrap. I finally stopped in September, mainly because I didn’t need any such encouragement. Chronicling what I was doing to battle Dipshit Trump only slowed down the actual fighting against Dipshit Trump, basically.
Everyone in my life lived through the year, more or less whole. For that I am deeply grateful, and wish only to copy and paste this same sentence on this night next year.
I have five minutes left. Lightning round. Hopes.
Write even more. Pitch bigger, broader ideas. I love writing my reviews, and am grateful for the opportunity. But it’s time to put this more positive frame of mind toward action. Time to think bigger.
Spoil Emily, Spoil Cooper. Spoil my family. Be a better friend. Reach out to people I miss, so I don’t have to miss them.
Amplify the voices of people whose work and whose words I respect. Continue to connect with others who are fighting this corrupt, hateful nonsense. Fight despair, fight fear. Fight.
One metaphor to end 2017, as I am fond of those. Every day for 40-plus years, I started out each day in a hole. If I could manage it, I clawed my way up, and out, only to crawl along the ground in a scrambling attempt to dispense with what I felt was expected of me. Then back into the hole, and start underground again the next day.
Now, I feel like I start out each day (or most days) on the ground. Like I said, I ain’t doing cartwheels. I’m not flying. But I don’t have to climb up and out just to start living. Time to keep looking around. Deciding where to walk.
Happy New Year, everyone.
—Portland, Maine. 12:01 AM, January 1, 2018.