The last 12-months have been tough. Really tough. It’s been the hardest year of my life.
In sharing my truth here, I feel that writing a long, detailed description of the difficulties I’ve undergone isn’t wholly necessary, although a further exploration of life lessons learned might well follow in due course –
For now, I can tell you that I have been dealing with the potential breakup of my marriage, my dad dying from cancer, severe problems in my job and an ongoing recovery from substance addiction. Despite trying to help myself via regular visits to the Doctor, counselling and prescribed SSRIs I was slowly but surely falling into a deep black hole. Combined, these problems took me to the very edge.
During this year there have been days where I felt like I’d been sucker-punched in the stomach. Left with a deep, emotional pain, heavy and dense, stretching from gut to heart. So many mornings where I would wake from a poor night’s sleep, exhausted, anxious and filled with black gloom. Mornings where I couldn’t stop myself crying, in the car, on my way to the office and then having to work with a mask tightly glued on, trying to concentrate on the job whilst simultaneously being racked with fear for the future.
Tell me if I’m right in this – No matter what serious difficulty you’re going through, isolation magnifies it. Wouldn’t you agree?
In my experience, when we’re feeling overwhelmed and that we have no-one we can share honestly with, or who can perhaps offer us a word of gentle encouragement or advice, it’s easy to start losing perspective and to begin considering ever more drastic ‘solutions’. Considering ways to escape the mess and the pain. Maybe even considering suicide.
During those dark days, lifelong friends of mine, men that I considered to be ‘my brothers’, were nowhere to be found. Well, that’s not completely true. I did receive an occasional (once a fortnight), brief text asking how I was. That was the limit of their help, of them being there for me when they knew (because I’d told them) that I was undergoing my version of hell on earth. Maybe I’d get a brief visit and some light questioning, but that was all. As I don’t have an extended family, and friends are my kin, their limited help wasn’t enough.
In an emotional crisis, under stress from multiple angles, I needed my tribe, my clan, my brotherhood to be by my side every step of the way. They weren’t there.
Why didn’t they do more? I’m not sure. Perhaps my expectations of friendship are unrealistic. Looking back I think that my friends simply didn’t know what to say to me and also they had their own families to take care of alongside their own life worries and responsibilities to deal with. I’m not judging here, just sharing observations. People that I expected to have my back did not have my back.
Would the people you expect to have your back, actually have your back if the shit truly hits the fan? Are you sure?
At my most overwhelmed, when I had suicidal ideation and had begun to consider crashing my car at high-speed, I am so very grateful that a friend I met in a 12-step recovery program, who I have known for less than two years, stepped up for me in a big way and modelled a type of loving friendship that I have never experienced before.
My friend, who is in his sixties, let’s call him Chris, also knew what I was going through and, without being asked, dedicated himself to making sure that I knew I was not alone, that he was there and would do anything he could to be of help. He asked nothing in return.
With the deepest gratitude to Chris, the man who saved my life, here I recollect and share the seven things he did for me, seven simple lessons of love and connection, that helped me through a tunnel of pain and back into the light.
1. Contacted me every day.
…and I do mean every day. A text would come in the morning saying, “how’s things” or “what’s happening” or perhaps just sharing his plans for the day and asking mine. Then he’d call me at some point during the day for a chat and not always about my predicaments. Just simple, friendly conversation about everything and anything. A text would come, without fail, before bedtime wishing me a good night’s sleep or similar. He never let me feel that I was alone, that I was going through the struggles on my own.
2. Told me that I could contact him 24/7.
In no uncertain terms he told me that I was to call or text whenever I wanted to or needed to. Chris said it didn’t matter if it was 4am, if I needed help or just to talk I must make that call. He made himself available to me on a round-the-clock basis.
3. Made his house, my house. A place of refuge.
Chris told me clearly that I could come round to his house whenever I liked or needed to. Additionally, as and when I needed it, he would free up a bed, or a sofa if need be in his family home. A warm meal would be cooked and shared and If I needed a night away from marital arguments, I could rest quietly in his home, staying for a week or however long I needed. Just knowing that I had somewhere I could go for a coffee, chat and loving acceptance helped me so much.
4. Gave me perspective. This too shall pass.
When I was caught up in pain and fear, believing my problems would never end, Chris kept me grounded. He’d share from his own experiences, of his life (a hard life) and from things he’d seen happen with his friends and family. He gave me hope, but hope that was free of bullshit. He didn’t blow smoke at me and called things as he saw them. He told me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted to hear.
5. Allowed me to be vulnerable, tearful, frightened and hurt.
I didn’t have to wear a mask with Chris. Didnt feel the need to falsify masculine bravery, pretend, minimise or deny. I could just be me, whoever me was in that moment. Whether broken emotionally or silent and aloof, I was allowed to be that. But not for too long, not to the stage where I was wallowing in my own misery. Instead, he…
6. Got me involved in social activities when all I wanted to do was hide away and lick my wounds
Chris would say ‘shall we do X’ and I’d say ‘no thanks’. He wouldn’t have it though. He would persistently chase me to go out places. So, Chris, his family and I did many things together. We visited different cities. Ate out at restaurants. Watched live music. Had a picnic. Took long walks beside a river, sharing good conversation and breathing in fresh air.
7. Made me laugh out loud. A lot.
Did I say earlier that Chris has been through a lot in his own life? He’s been in prison, lost family and friends to the disease of addiction, been homeless, destitute and spiritually lost. He’s also got a debilitating, chronic disease which, although medicated, causes him pain and a whole range of other non-fun symptoms. Despite all this, perhaps because of it, Chris has such a wickedly funny sense of humour. Plus, he has a contagious laugh and I couldn’t tell you how many times he’d be telling me things that had happened to him over the years and I’d be crying with laughter. His joy lightened the grip and the power of my depressive moods. Laughter is the best medicine.
I’m pleased to say that things have improved so much for me in recent months. My marriage, work and issues with addiction have all started coming back into a degree of balance. Life is still a struggle some days, but nowhere near as challenging as it was.
I’m feeling happy again and I’m still alive.
I hope that maybe someone will do the same for you one day if you need help or that you will do the same for someone who needs your support and love.
“Love, love is a verb, Love is a doing word” ~ Massive Attack (Teardrop)
If another vulnerable person you care for is going through a potentially life-changing experience; divorce, health problems, isolation, difficulties with their mental health or financial issues, please don’t just watch idly from the sidelines as they could easily slip out of your reach.
Please step up TODAY and DO SOMETHING. It may just help to save their life.
Damien lives a simple life with his wife and lovely collection of many children and pets.
sharing buttons below