It’s like there is 2 distinct voices in my head. The first one is the more problematic of the two. We’ll call him Winston. Winston leads with his heart. Winston tears up when he watches movies like Dead Poets Society and Field of Dreams. Winston feels the dagger twist in his heart when he thinks back to all the cruelties heaped on him by the other kids at school when he was growing up. But Winston is also the guy who developed a keen sense of empathy and a contagious (if often twisted) sense of humor. Winston was the one who spoke at the AA meeting last night and vomited all his pain, suffering, discontent and suicidal thoughts out onto the table in front of him next to his Synergy kombucha bottle and his keys for all to see. When people share at a meeting, like he did last night, that’s what they mean by “This was a really good meeting.” AA meetings are about bearing it all, or at least they should be. As my grandsponsor (my sponsor’s sponsor) always says, it’s the safest place you will be all day.
Then there is Grant. Grant is sound and reasonable. In sobriety, Grant was the one who learned to pay his bills on time, to always keep an updated registration and proof of insurance card in the glove box, to sweep and mop his kitchen floor even if he wasn’t expecting company. Grant makes his bed every morning. Grants wears the shoes his mom and sister-in-law tell him to wear because Grant has no fashion sense to speak of.
But yesterday, as the afternoon turned to evening, Winston looked all around for Grant but couldn’t find him. Winston looked in every nook and cranny of my psyche but Grant seemed to have skipped town. This was very unfortunate because Winston felt himself being enveloped by the Dark Side and desperately reached for Grant’s hand. Hell, Winston would have settled for one of Grant’s toes; Winston needed something, anything, to hold on to keep the swirling vortex of the Darkness from sucking him in once again.
But Grant wasn’t there and Winston slipped away. What tugged at Winston’s shirttail, then threw a burlap potato sack over his head and swept him away was the same thing that gets him time and time again.
Or, far more accurately, Winston’s perception of disappointment of, really, anybody. His mother, father, brother, ex-girlfriend, a coworker, a close friend, casual acquaintance, distant relative, random stranger, your cousin Eddie, Kim Jong Un, anybody. Winston has a theory and I think it’s pretty sound. Since his traumatic brain Injury, his “fight or flight” instinct in his reptilian brain has been so honed, that the slightest criticism, constructive or not, sends him flying back on the ropes and into a rope-a-dope the likes of which would put Muhammed Ali to shame. He throws out defensive remarks and protective justifications like my Nana used to throw out Smarties for us grandkids. Yesterday, Winston got an email from his brother than merely offered constructive criticisms to Winston about the various Faces of Winston that everybody has and uses as the situation dictates. Only in Winston’s case, his instinct for social cues, conversational techniques, and really any evolved sense of social interaction was beaten and left for dead after his TBI (to be fair, he didn’t have much of one to begin with.) Poor guy has the personality of a motivational speaker trapped inside the head of 68 year-old truck driver with mild symptoms of dementia. Imagine a team building retreat hosted by Larry the Cable Guy and you’ve summed up Winston.
It is in those moments, when, according to Winston’s perceptions anyway, when he is fighting for his life, that he needs Grant the most that Grant has taken a sabbatical to an undisclosed location and Winston ends up doubled over on the floor of his “office,” a supply closet on the 4th floor, crying like his dog was just hit by a car.
He wants to kill himself. At least, that’s what Winston thinks he wants to do. And the only one who can talk him back from the ledge is Grant. But thankfully, Winston has developed for himself, and only his sobriety enabled him to do this, a keen sense for when he needs to take a step back from his reality and assess that even though he doesn’t know Grant’s whereabouts, Grant has to be somewhere because Grant always comes back.
So, Winston grabbed Gabe, one of the vice presidents of the company who happened to be close by at that moment, the two of them went into a room, closed the door, and Winston told him through his tears that he simply couldn’t keep up the schedule he was keeping, that something was gonna give (Winston prudently left out the part about one of the things he might give if he kept up this schedule was his life.)
So Winston left and as he approached his car, guess who was already behind the wheel waiting for him?
You guessed it.
“Seriously, man” Winston growled. “Where the hell were you 20 minutes ago?!? I needed you! So far in the last 6 months, I’ve disappointed everyone remotely close to me and I can’t keep up this schedule no matter how broke I am and I needed you!”
“I’m here,” Grant said. “I’m always here. In the moment, I was the neurons that fired to send a signal to your hand to grab Gabe and tell him you can’t do this anymore. I was the uncontrollable surge of cortisol that made you break down and cry in the supply closet. I’m always here, Winston. Since you got sober, you created me and I promise I will never leave you.”
As Winston wiped the remains of his tear ducts away from his cheeks, he chuckled slightly.
“What it is it?” Grant asked as he got out of the car to walk around to the passenger side.
“Nothing, it’s just –“
“What,” Grant insisted. “Tell me.”
“It’s just that, just then you sounded like that cheesy poster Christians have on their walls. Y’know, Footprints?”
Grant smiled. “Well, maybe it’s not so cheesy. Everybody’s gotta believe in something,” he said and disappeared into the car.
Winston got in the driver’s seat and turned the key.