The therapist called my name, and I shot up from the chair, eager to begin my journey back to being a person. I was sick of being a ghost. Despite the tears streaming down my face like an exploded urinal, my eyes bloody from repeated lashings of tissue paper, and my inability to speak, I WAS SICK OF BEING A GHOST.
The summer was nearing an end, and I had vowed to myself that it would be the greatest summer I ever had. The school year turned out to be miserable. I hated my job because I felt I had put so mush time and effort into planning my classes, researching the latest ideas and strategies, and staying up late to create manipulatives that would make the class fun! Instead, I was greeted with apathy, disrespect, and blame. From both students and administration. I noticed how a group of the new staff members seemed to really be comfortable with the principal. They would sneak out a few minutes early on a regular basis- together. When I would walk past a classroom, I would see them chatting with students as if they were childhood friends, playing the school guitars, or games. I never had time for that. I was busting my ass every day and during the weekend to pacify the venomous crowd that greeted me every morning. And I get rewarded with the principal observing me for five minutes, and telling me, “I failed Spanish in school, and I could pass your class.”
My marriage was over. My ex left me in the middle of the school year, and after the initial shock, I felt at peace with what had happened. It was a surprise to everyone that knew us. But there was no reconciliation. It’s become the norm in America. So, after finally accepting it, I decided that the summer was mine. I was going to party all the time, travel, have lots of sex, and consume as mush alcohol as I could.
I followed the therapist into the room, and she closed the door. I was sobbing like the infant I had become lately through my anxiety. I was totally dependent on her. In fact, I thought to myself, “my god! She’s attractive!” There is probably some sort of psychological reasoning for that: she was welcoming and held what I perceived as the keys to curing everything that ailed me.
“Tell me how you’re feeling…” She tried to initiate a conversation, but I was not ready. This was a cry I hadn’t performed in years. It was a childish sob, because the anxiety and the drinking had turned me back into a child. I sounded like I got a boo-boo on the playground.
The beginning of that summer started with a bang. I think the first thing I did when we were released from school was buy several bottles of alcohol. It started as a celebration. I was free. For a while, I went to the bars every day with my friends. I would start drinking in the morning. I felt liberated, newly single, and like my life had begun again. It was party time.
The destroyed marriage was done. The sadness and fear of social consequences were there, but alcohol was always there to help me through that. Between the liquid and my friends, I soon felt quite at peace with my new single life. (Dating again would prove to be another kind of anxiety- an almost GOOD kind of anxiety.)
What was a larger problem, the shadow I tried to run from all summer, was the house we had together. I never should have bought it. It was, I’ll admit, a bit more than I could afford. But- my friend who I bought it from, and the bank I lent from, both told me I qualify. So, it was a bad decision on my part, but completely accepted and encouraged by the other parties- which is pretty much the reason for the Great Recession. I never fell behind on payments, but when 2008 happened, I was suddenly paying thousands more on a house than it was worth. I got screwed.
Everyone I consulted at the time told me, “don’t worry. It’s a market correction. Stay there for a few years, and you’ll have equity again. You’ll turn a profit on your house in about 5 years.” Well, no one thought about the surrounding area. Our neighbors left. Our property was the best house on the block- by far. The area became depressed, and the value just wasn’t climbing.
So, eight years after the Great Recession, I waited every day during the summer to hear good news from my realtor. The first realtor I tried to hire denied me. She said she couldn’t sell the property. I never thought I’d hear that damning news before. I wanted to hire her to sell something for me, and she said no. Very depressing. Months later, I was able to find a realtor who specialized in short sales. She told me about the irony of the term “short sale”; it usually takes a very long time. I have to accept an offer, send it to the bank, the bank takes its time to accept, deny, or counter-offer (which could discourage prospective buyers, and did multiple times in my case), and then fill out mountains of paperwork to get it done.
Only during that summer, the worst situation was happening: no one was even looking at the property. The bank was calling to threaten me with foreclosure- if you’re current on your payments, the bank won’t even consider a short sale. I remember the conversation with the bank clearly: “Sir, why is it that you’ve fallen behind and wish to request a short sale?”
“I’m going through a divorce.”
“Oh. Yup. That’ll do it. Alright, I’ll get it started…”
But there was nobody interested. In the spring, when we first put the house on the market, we had a few bites. They evaporated like the whiskey in my bottle.
Also evaporating was my confidence that, over the summer, I would be liberated from the social and financial chains of that property. By the time August arrived, I realized not only would I have to return to the classes I was starting to despise, but I still had that damned house in my name, my sex life had not improved one bit, and I had accomplished nothing short of polishing off a few gallons on whisky.
This is when I would wake up in panic. My day would begin with me opening my eyes and thinking, “oh no. Here we go again. How the hell am I going to make it through this?” And at 8:00 in the morning, I would serve myself a couple shots of whisky. My nerves would be calm for a short while, and I’d go back for more. I am lucky I never became so dependent on alcohol that I couldn’t go a couple days without it; after a week or two, I felt I needed to prove to myself that I’m not that bad. And I always could. But that morning panic still returned. And one morning…I realized I started thinking about how to make it stop. I started to consider ending it all.
That’s when I realized: I should go seek therapy. The therapist waited until I couldn’t cry anymore. There’s a certain euphoria that comes after crying your eyes out for an hour. I was just spent. She asked me about my anxiety. She asked me about my drinking. We both agreed that, yes, it is a trigger. And we both agreed that there is a path to getting better.
I still enjoy a drink now and again, but it has been severely toned down from what it used to be that summer. My therapist and I had to part ways due to insurance- there’s another problem with our country, and it certainly adds to the anxiety I wanted to relieve. I also learned that, although what I had recently been through exacerbated my anxiety, I was always prone to feeling anxious. Ever since childhood, I had anxiety. Now in my 40s, it feels a little different. I didn’t have to mask my fear for my students and supervisors. I could be a child then. I can’t now.