Dear Hope Nation,
I think we can agree these are not the best of times. Many of us are out of work. Many are forced to stay inside, away from others. Many are broke without a vision of how to get unbroke. Regardless of our material condition, an anxiety blankets the earth unlike any in my lifetime. No, these are not the best of times. Neither, though, are they the worst of times. Really.
Those of us in recovery have the memory of active use, particularly at the end of our addiction, to look back on. Those were my worst of times. I remember the knowledge, deep in the bone, that there was no friendly direction anywhere, that no human would be happy to see my face, that I was alone in a lifeless land with booze my only companion. That was a legitimate worst of time, desperately crawling through a void. Today, cradled in the recovery community, I can get through just about anything, and so can you.
In late March thirteen years ago, though, life was very different. I’d started–through theft and cunning–to organize the materials I’d need to destroy the world, or at least the Keith portion of it. I’d put together a suicide plot, or at least the best plot I could come up with. By May, I was ready to implement this plan.
From my journal on my first day in recovery, a recovery I didn’t think I needed and I suspected was impossible:
May 21, 2007
When I got out of bed this morning, I had a plan. Not a perfect plan. Not a foolproof plan. Hell, my plan could have snapped apart like a small tree branch trying to support a bear cub across a swollen May river. Still, it was a plan.
I was going to take a bus to Dartmouth College, start heading south on the Appalachian Trail and not stop until Georgia. With just dried fruit and oatmeal to sustain me, I would walk the bottom four-fifths of the AT in two pairs of sneakers and a pair of sandals.
Every plan has loose ends, space for contingencies, room left to breathe in the design. In an excellent plan, the paragraph above would present the final problem: How will I equip myself for this three- or four-month journey? The perfect plan would include the application of a credit card or cash to expenses at an outdoor apparel shop. A good plan would answer the question in a thornier manner, involving difficult budget decisions and a willingness to compromise on any given food’s flavor for calories.
Now that we’ve covered what that second paragraph would be in a perfect and a good plan, let me now share with you what living on oatmeal and ending up walking a hundred miles barefoot is in a truly fucked-up, horrible, wretched plan–it is the heart, the clockwork, the settled part of a doomed plan. That was my plan.
I was going to walk away from everything I’ve known, take on a fake identity, a “trail name,” and, eventually, kill myself out on the trail, thereby saving my three beautiful daughters from the shame of being related to a suicide. Instead, they would have been related to one of the disappeared. That was my plan.
Instead of following out one of the stupidest plans I could have come up with, I checked into a VA hospital for treatment for my depression. I had tentatively called my trail journal, “Tomorrow is a Good Day to Die: the last days of a suicide.” I’ll now have to come up with a new title, something with a similar pizazz and, dare I say, optimism.
I’ve mentioned working on an incomplete memoir. It may never be completed, but it does have a filename. What is that working title?
“Today is a Good Day to Live”
And it is.
You matter. I matter. We matter.