Grief Pig (A Lover of Loss)

The other night, I started writing a piece about addiction. Partially because it’s something I struggle with, but mainly because I wanted to be pretentious about it. I’m not going to sit here and pretend there’s not certain subjects I get really pretentious about. My father’s death is the main one, with addiction being the latest in my sights. Here’s how I started the piece:

I'm an addict. It's something that lives deep inside of me. Deeper than my blood, deeper than the marrow in my bones and deeper even than the circumstances that led to my existence. It was passed down through two long genetic lines and made up a part of my soul before I was even born. Now as an adult, pretending to be well rounded, I wear it on my back like a parachute.

I’m not a fan. I was in a weak spot. I’ve been trying to stay off the pot (again) to be a productive and well-rounded person, but it’s hard as hell. Just being around it sets my inner addict off, and he doesn’t discriminate between substances. I feel like (what I imagine to be) a crack addict when I think about, smell, or even know that it’s around. I start spiraling and get pulled into this nasty head space where I can’t concentrate on anything but the drug and its proximity to me. That’s what I was getting at with the parachute analogy. Here’s another piece:

The parachute, when I loved it, kept me from falling too fast. It was a way to slow the world down to my speed, keeping me from breaking my neck on the concrete floor that we all live on. It's cold and hard, but it's life, and we all have to learn how to make that floor comfortable. The parachute is something that should be cut away after you've landed, whether it be on your back or on your feet—it's common knowledge that you don't need it to live your life. You're in a new place with new situations—and your parachute is no longer needed. You cut it off your back and move forward, hopefully.

It gets a little better there, but the thing that made me throw the piece out is actually a few lines that came from a genetically enhanced raccoon. If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy—stop reading and go watch it, there’s a big heart underneath all the Marvel-branded fun. One of the guardians is an anthropomorphic racoon named Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. At one point, while drunk, he screams at the others, “…I didn’t ask to get made. I didn’t ask to get torn apart and put back together over and over and turned into some little monster.” And later, while scolding Drax the Destroyer for biting off more than he can chew, while mocking Drax’s dead wife and child, he says “Everybody's got dead people! But it’s no excuse for letting everyone else around get killed along the way.”

Now, isn’t that the truth? No one asks to be made the way they are—hell, no one asks to be born. It’s a decision thrust upon you by your parents. It just happens. Rocket’s origin is just an extension of our own, where we were torn apart and put back together by the events of our lives. Racoon or not, the man has a point.

I wallow sometimes, because I am a grief pig. I love to feel my pain and experience my emotions to their fullest, but somewhere along the way, I became addicted to the heartbreak, a lover of loss. There are times when I get into that spiraling head space that I just want to stay there, because I feel alive. I’ve developed a happiness tolerance and every day life just doesn’t scratch the itch anymore—to feel truly alive, I need to lose the things I love most. This is another addiction that runs through my blood, I can see shades of it in my family.

I can sit here and blame a lot of things for making me the way I am today, but there’s only one thing that can truly hold any blame: my willpower. It’s weak and almost non-existent, but I’m working on it. Whether it be masturbation, drugs, food, cigarettes or any of the other things that make life worth living, I can’t stop. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t love the hell out of those things if they are in fact your things—this isn’t my platform to preach to you, it’s my platform to preach about myself. There just needs to be a balance. The weed I smoked made me able to consume all of these things in mass quantities, and without it there’s nothing. I’ve not just lost one habit, I’ve lost the satellite habits that kept the addiction in place. I don’t feel that twinge in my pants and hands when I’m alone. I don’t need to hungrily bogart my herb away from everyone, nor do I need to stockpile food for the night ahead like a squirrel preparing for winter. The only thing that’s stuck with me are the cigarettes, and I need them right now. They’re my crutch. If you have to addict yourself to something else to stop the one that’s derailing your life, go for it. Well, unless it’s also something that can also ruin your life.

To get back to the parachute metaphor, I was going to say things like, “It drags behind me, snagging on loose nails and filling with wind and picking me up—just to drop me again.” But that’s the worst. Literally the worst. Addiction doesn’t require metaphor, it requires directness. If you don’t respect your addiction, it will tear you apart. My family has a storied past with AA, and I myself own a copy of the blue book, despite never actually attending anything. I took it with me when I moved out of my parent’s house and it’s sat in a drawer collecting dust until last week. I’m not an alcoholic, I’ve never had a taste for booze (thank god), but that doesn’t mean I can’t take something away from this book. I don’t necessarily believe in all the God stuff they bring up (despite thanking him/her in the previous sentence) but I do believe in the higher power that I must surrender to. That higher power is the fact of the matter.

The fact of the matter is that we are meat bags, filled with blood and ruled by electricity and chemicals. These are things that can easily be derailed, which I have done with marijuana. I can already tell with my two weeks or so that I have destroyed my brain chemistry. I’ve had a bi-polar approach to the world for the past while, sometimes being elated with the mundane and other times carrying a dark cloud above my head—the only relief I get from these states is the fact I’m not trying to fashion the dark cloud into a bachelor pad anymore. That’s new to me, and I’ve surrendered to it. I have to seize this lack of craving for grief, if for anything, to get over myself.

My dad used to tell me all the time, “we’re our own worst enemy,” and truer words have never been spoken. I am Joel Morgan’s swollen heart. I am Joel Morgan’s apathy. I am Joel Morgan’s death. A habit that has been common with me since I was a child has been thinking about suicide. They’ve manifested into actions several times in my life, and recently that level of severity has come back.

I have an intensely scary, romantic infatuation with death. I view it as the ultimate frontier, the moment when you’ll know. The culmination of every decision you’ve ever made or had made for you, all boiled down to nothing. Something that I probably shouldn’t have ever read was found on 4chan, though I think I dug it up through Reddit. From an anonymous poster:

“In the lingering moments before you die, your body releases DMT. The same drug that makes you dream. The same drug found in every living animal. It’s not an evolutionary trick to make you survive. Your body is choosing to release this drug now because it believes your fate is too grim for you to comprehend. So, you dream. You dream that everything will be fine. You dream that nothing happened at all. It’s in this moment that your body sits across from you. It tells you, ‘looks like we’re not going to make it this time.’ You sit around a fire and recollect the past before soon parting ways back into the atomic ether. Your body does this because it loves you. You have never met anybody like your body. Your body has been with you every day, good and bad. It’s even kept a journal of your life carved in scars. Your eyelashes always wiped the tears away from your eyes.”

How enticing is that? It sounds like the ultimate gift followed by the ultimate journey. I’m not sure what I think the afterlife is, other than unknown, but there’s a part of me that just needs to find out, like I can’t wait for my own death. My mind is wrapped around the electricity in the brain. They say energy can’t be created or destroyed, only transformed. When I think about that in the scope of human consciousness, I feel like it really is possible to live forever, but where do we go?

I remember after my dad died (the second one), I became very reckless with my own life. I remember doing little things like not wearing a seat belt or just not caring enough to judge traffic reasonably. I remember walking into the streets blindly, I remember hiking across town in minus 32-degree weather in jeans and a thin coat just for more weed. I remember the time I played with a gun.

The heat of the summer was cooking my childhood home. I had gone over to my mother’s old house to see how she was, and to absorb the last days of the dwelling where I lost my virginity. The house was on the market and a “FOR SALE” sign sat awkwardly on the lawn I used to mow. The house was big, two stories and a huge front yard. The driveway was actually bigger than the lawn, and for good reason. In the days of being a kid, it was always holding a boat, snowmobiles or a motor home. On the day I showed up, it held nothing at all.

That didn’t mean Mom wasn’t home though, at the time she drove a big old Cadillac SRX that just barely cleared the garage—even after we emptied it out. She could still be in the house, hiding from the world. I wouldn’t blame her.

The front door was never locked. From the second grade until we sold, I don’t know if I ever used a key to enter that home. That’s old Grande Prairie for you. As I entered the house, the eerie quiet washed over me. Even when mom slept, the house felt more alive than this. No one was home.

I called out but got no answer. I ghost-walked around the house, looking at things that were familiar to me but had never felt so foreign. My fingers traced the small black tiles on the back counter of the living room, I gazed up at the over-arching bookshelf filled by my father. Copies of the Workman’s Manual and Gun Digest sat collecting dust, never to be read again.

I went upstairs and sat on my mother’s bed, staring into the closet filled with his clothes. I stuck my face into a jacket in an attempt to breathe my father’s air one last time, but it was already tainted. I opened his bedside table and found his blackberry, his watches and his rings. I touched them all, tried to remember him wearing them and when I failed, I headed back downstairs.

I was going to the door when I had the idea to check the furnace room. I was living completely alone at this point and I knew that there was some useful stuff back there, as far as puzzles and things to do went, so I changed courses and found myself in the dimly lit storage area beside the furnace.

Standing in front of me like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey was the black steel of my father’s fireproof gun case. Inside rest two hunting rifles that hadn’t been used in years, cases of ammunition and a small blue box containing a 9mm Glock 17 pistol.

Still to this day, I’m not sure what compelled me. The keys hadn’t moved since I found them at seventeen. Standing on my tippiest of toes, I reached onto the bare two by four that was above my head and felt the cold metal ring and the jagged edge of the keys. They moved the latch like it was the first time.

The rifles were in carry bags, hidden away in the corner, but that small blue box seemed to radiate a cyan halo from the bottom of the case. I picked it up and was surprised by the weight. I set it on the deep freeze and lifted the lid of the box. There it was, gleaming in the soft amber light. Black. Stark.

I held it as if I were the police responding to a call. I had seen a cop handle a gun in person before, as a kid. He checked the magazine and the barrel for bullets before handing it over to us to hold. I mimicked, from memory. The magazine was cool and empty. I flipped it out a few times and jammed it back in like I meant business. I felt like a complete bad-ass. But, curiosity at the wrong times has always been a downfall of mine. I reached back into the case and grabbed a small brown and red cardboard box that looked older than me. Again, surprised by the weight, I slid the top off the box and revealed the small golden objects within. With shaky hands, I took one single round from the ammunition box, and placed it in the magazine.

I slapped the mag into place. I pulled back the slide and heard that magic sound. I did it slowly, so I could watch the inner workings of the machine. Smartly, I did it in reverse and took the bullet back out. With a shaky hand, I sent him home to his brothers. Why I did this next part, I’m still trying to find out.

Alone in my mother’s house, surrounded by the debris of a once whole family—I slid the barrel of the pistol into my mouth. Closing my eyes, my tongue and cheeks became suddenly aware of the cold. My finger was far from the trigger, the safety was on and the gun unloaded. It was an exercise for my mind. I think I was trying to find out where my biological father went, that place in the mind that you can’t come back from.

I don’t know. I was a confused kid. Still am.

I remember when Robin Williams killed himself, Marc Maron re-posted the episode of his WTF podcast with the man, and in their conversation the subject of suicide was brought up quite earnestly. The thing I remember most and took away was Maron saying something along the lines of finding comfort in the knowledge that you could do it. Like it’s that last vestige of power left in a hopeless life, like there’s something about a relaxing comfort in knowing that it can all end at your own whim.

I don’t think I wanted to die then, and I don’t think I want to die now. I am Joel Morgan’s confused priorities. I am Joel Morgan’s scarred memories. But also, I am Joel Morgan. And he is an addict. The suicidal tendencies are clearly linked to the addiction I’m trying to overcome, and it’s clear that the reason I smoked so much is the exact thing that keeps flaring up at this weak point in my life. It’s not the marijuana that makes me suicidal, it’s something that’s been there since the sixth grade, or probably before. Long before the dead dads, long before the broken hearts. Maybe he’s born with it? Maybe it’s dopamine (or lack there of).

At my peak, I was spending up to six hundred dollars a month on pot. I've paid less in rent. That's two hundred more than my car payment, and I would do it without a second thought. In the beginning, when it started getting out of hand, I'd steal to get the money if I was broke, sometimes I'd sell the things that I love most for it. I should have realized the severity of my condition back then, but it's always hard to see the forest for the trees.

I'm not going to lie and say quitting the habit wasn't a financial decision, because it was, wholeheartedly. I didn't want to become a better person, but when I have my peaks, I realize that marijuana has done nothing positive for me. I thought it made me creative, or made me enjoy things more, but those are just rationalizations—it stopped being fun years ago. I can actually get some work done now, and I feel like I have my balls back. I'm putting myself out there again, both in person and while looking for work. I used to be terrified to take my dog outside because I live behind a bar and would inevitably have to talk to other humans (something I used to be good at). I really couldn't do anything that didn't fit into my routine of smoke, work, smoke, eat, smoke, sleep.

Near the end, I was starting to hear things. One morning while on an empty train, I clearly heard a man begin rage at someone, but when I looked, there was no one around me. Silence would manifest itself into odd, distant music and any sort of natural rhythm (like footsteps, or pant legs rubbing each other while walking) would morph into a conversation that I would strain to hear. None of these things happen anymore, and it's terrifying that they ever did in the first place. I've known the children of men who struggled with all of these issues, and it ended badly for them. Very badly.

I'm still in a very susceptible place, but luckily, I have a wife who is excellent at both making me hear myself and bringing me back to the real world. It's a liberating feeling, to have the whole world open to me again. I feel like I owe it to myself to live the life that I've missed out on for the past nine years. How I found a wife during this time, and one that can tolerate me through this change, is a miracle in and of itself. I feel like she jumped on a grenade for the entire world.

I started smoking when I was just finishing high school, and I've just been added to the Facebook group for my ten-year reunion. That's a thought that makes my stomach curl and my chest sink like the entire ocean is resting on top of it. But, I finally feel free, and this time with enough clarity to get through to the other side. You know what they say, the fourth time's a charm. There's things to work on, like what causes my bouts of depression in the first place, my temper, my attentiveness, but all will come in time.

I'm a lucky guy, and I can't forget that.