Sobriety: Six Years On.
August 7th, 2010.
It was on that day I said to myself, Do it today, there is nothing in this life for you anymore but hurt and pain; the kids will forget you and get on with life. You will no longer feel the deep shame and powerlessness that has taken away the person you were. Kill yourself. Today!
I was extremely drunk when that self-directed rant occurred in my mind, but it almost gave me clarity, as if I had found a way out of the torture. Even if suicide was a sin, and I went to hell, it couldn’t be any worse than the living hell I was in. The journey home from the party seemingly took forever and the emotional claustrophobia of the car was stifling.
I needed to get on with my plan, but I wasn’t sure how I would do it. I decided I would hang myself. I got in the door, put on my running gear and told my family I was going to the forest to get some exercise and clear my head. I held my son, Dylan, in the hallway and fought back the tears because I knew that this was the last time I’d ever see him. Who would his dad be in the future? As I held him, I asked God to bring a positive role model into his life after I’d gone, a man who would inspire him to be all that he could be. I love my son more than anything, Pearl too, but I could barely take care of myself, let alone both of them. My family would be hurt beyond belief but time would heal them all. In years to come I’d be a picture in a frame that hopefully people spoke of fondly.
I walked out the door and went to the basement. There I started to gather the materials to get the job done. I knew there was a rope there from the time I had been trimming the trees during the summer and had used it as a safety harness, the irony was not lost on me that it was now going to cause my death. I pulled the rope off the shelf and wrapped it up neatly. I then rustled around for a beer that I knew I’d hidden somewhere. I found it, downed it. I tucked the rope into the back of my running shorts and left the basement. It wouldn’t be long now.
On my way to the forest, I stopped at the shop and bought a six-pack. I was going to go out in celebratory fashion and hopefully not feel it too much when the rope snapped my neck. I was now all set as I hiked up to a dense part of the forest that was concealed by a deep overgrowth of trees and a ditch. It was calm and quiet on that Sunday evening at seven o'clock. When I found my patch, I knew it was the place. There was a little hollow below a grand old tree that looked sturdy and I decided to sit on the bank of the hollow for a while before beginning my final preparations. I thought of the life I could have had and I pondered a sober life and how things would have turned out for me. I then prayed and asked God for forgiveness, but He never spoke back. I drank two beers and threw the rope up over a high branch to secure it. I would then be able to climb onto the branch below that and jump from there, which would leave me dangling over the hollow. When the rope was tight and I’d made a decent enough noose, I sat down to finish my drinks. Again my mind thought of all the good times I had seen and how blessed I was that people loved me. I wondered how Trev would go on without me, how it would devastate my parents and brothers and sisters. I ached over my departed friend Denise and how she had left us and was I about to do the same to everyone who knew me?
I had to do it now, get it over with. I climbed the branch and took the rope in my hands. I put the noose over my head and secured it around my neck, closing my eyes; I prayed to God once more for forgiveness. My heart beat fast and my breathing quickened before a voice said, No, this is not the way for you. It jolted me! I opened my eyes, looked at the ground below, imagined a person finding my dangling corpse whilst out walking their dog the next day, pictured my kids with another dad, my beloved family and friends spending the rest of their lives mourning and questioning why this happened. No, no, no, this was not my time; this was like the hundred km race. I was in a low patch and I would get out of it and finish the race of life on God’s terms, not my own. [Excerpt from The Second Lap, © Malcolm McLoughlin.]
December 12th, 2016.
I feel like I'm reading about someone else when I look back on that dark time. It wasn't an overnight decision to tie the noose and head for the forest. It was a long road of self-hatred and life-threatening alcohol abuse that culminated with me sitting on the ledge that sunny August evening. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who have sat on that ledge but never made it back. I am not lying or exaggerating when I say there's not a day that goes by where I'm not thankful for my sobriety. Today marks six years since I took that last beer to stave of the DT's and get me through the night. The days that followed weren't fun, but they were necessary. Each year I've seen life and sobriety through a myriad of lenses. There have been thankful years, years feeling survivor’s guilt, and this year. The past year has been the hardest one of them all! I went through a lot of transitions in my 39th year of living. The recurring theme was of dying to myself to get where I needed to be. Boy it sucked. Sucked! On at least four occasions I passed a bar and felt the draw to go in and down a few cold ones. I was struggling with disappointments in my life, mostly my career and achievements. I couldn't help but measure myself against all the successful people around me. I lost my job, was abandoned by some people I thought were my friends, and saw the world around me turn into a cacophonous arena of self-promotion. It gnawed at me like a disease. But I learned and relearned a few things along the way.
#1. My job does not define me. It doesn't matter if I'm a movie star or the guy who cleans the metro station: what I get paid to do does not define my worth or status as a person.
#2. Comparison will kill me—and every creative thought I've ever had. The online personalities and perfectly posed pictures on Instagram are about as close to reality as I am to a monkey. So I stopped looking at what others were doing and stepped into what I was made to do.
#3. Surround myself with the people who bring out the best in me. It's terrifying the amount of people I talk to who are in relationships or friendships that are emotional power-trips. If someone genuinely loves you, they will want the best for you. If my happiness or success causes unhealthy one-upmanship, then I'm hanging with the wrong peeps. I should also reciprocate this and champion my squad.
#4. Seasons change. Yes, it is the most trite part of this treatise, but to paraphrase my main man David Foster Wallace, the more vapid and trite the cliché, often the more real and sharp the fangs of authentic reality that lie behind it. Human's collective penchant for wallowing in the mire should be an Olympic sport. My wife wrote down some major miracles that were happening whilst I stared at the wall and cursed anyone who came to mind. Lots of good things were happening to propel me into the man I am supposed to be. It's not that I couldn't see these things, I chose not to see them. Taking notes, journaling, and reflecting created milestones for when I looked in the rearview-mirror. I was surprised what I missed in the misery. There's always magic to be found in the mundane.
#5. Endure. When I'm on a razor’s edge of emotional discomfort in turbulent times, I'm usually still a long ways from the bottom of the tank. I live in a modernized world—air conditioning, takeaway meals, warm clothes, efficient transport and so on—that cultivates a reliance on comfort in order for me to heal. The key is to get familiar with the pain. Invite it in, get up close and personal with it. Then when I see it for the bump in the road that it really is, I just keep moving forward.
As I head into next year and my 40th birthday on the horizon, I'm glad I got a lot of this stuff out of the way. There's no way I am going to spend another year wishing on stuff that may or may not (mostly not) bring me enlightenment. I am finding my calling in simpler moments, like a crisp December day running the network of trails in my backyard—the fluidity of self-propulsion freeing me from the shackles of competing and comparing with others. Or it's in the moments when I wake my kids from their slumber each morning and walk with them as they grow—their tired, innocent heads stirring to begin a new day, a new gift. The question I need to be asking every day is, how am I being the best version of myself today and how can I be even better tomorrow? How can I be the best husband, father, and friend to those in my innermost circle? I think if I can take care of that, then the ripple will be felt in all the other places.
Thanks to all of you who support me personally and on Instagram and Twitter etc. Community is what keeps us addicts between the ditches and your words and actions have the power to help guide me in the right direction. Love you guys!