Captain America, on his Team USA Raleigh convert, took me down to the river and passed me the pipe. It had been so long that Iíd forgotten so I said, sure, why not. The first rush of euphoria was fantastic: the Chicago River sang Joyce, the buildings alive with lights looked like music frozen. A force surged within, I felt my toe nails, I tasted the lake, played music from memory. I battled cottonmouth all the way home.
I got home and tried to find my skin, but it was gone. I couldnít find a reference point. I couldnít find a song. A downward spiral into the basement of depression. My life was a mess, wave after wave of anxiety crippled me. I sat in a chair unable to move. My thoughts, once alive like electricity running through conduit, were now plodding through sludge: all my regrets came back, poor decisions, bad luck. They surfaced, real and apparent, chasing off any chance of happiness or balance. I tried everything to break the cycle. I remembered last August and early September when I won every bike race I entered, when people were coming to me and saying how they always looked for my wheel or were discouraged that I was racing that day. At the time I had such a feeling of bliss that I thought would induce a heart attack. Now, though, I thought how pathetic I must be that in my whole life the only happiness I could find was winning a couple of bike races. What a loser. It was 3:30 am when I finally found the ability to get out of the chair. My life was so miserable I figured I better do something. Itís zero degrees in Chicago and Iím on my hands and knees chasing dust bunnies into the dawn.
I spent the second half of high school in my friendís basement smoking from a black porcelain bong we called Starship because it looked like it came right off the cover of Yessongs. I felt like a Starship Trooper back then, discovering new worlds, new ways of seeing, new ways of thinking, hearing music for the first time. All without leaving the basement. Time to time Iíd get a feeling that I should be out doing something, interacting with people, but Iíd suppress the thought and listen to the first Zeppelin album again. I had a great deal of difficulty as a teenager, I felt unwanted and unappreciated. I couldnít talk to girls. The pot offered salvation. It allowed me to sit and figure myself out while memorizing The Wall instead of going out and making a fool of myself. Years later Iíd collapse onto a shrinkís couch where he told me I self-medicated through my adolescence to escape the pain. Amen to that, my brother.
Little by little I left the weed behind. The insights grew less and the paranoia more, making me feel stupid and anxious. By the second year of college I was refusing most offers to get high, choosing to spend my time in the library catching up on the education I sat stoned through. Trading weed for books, one addiction for another. I canít remember when I gave it up for good but I do remember not liking it with greater and greater earnestness. When I look back now I enjoy the seemingly happy memories but I often wonder what I missed, how my life would have been different if I did better in school or faced my fear of girls instead of stunting my emotional growth in that basement. It took years to make up for the time lost down there.
I love self medicating. I donít do it to escape today, rather to round the sharp edges, to distance myself from the stress of the day. A bottle of wine is one of lifeís pleasures. Trouble is, you start chasing after that euphoria and you wind up sick. I wake just before dawn in a sweat and find lifeís anxieties have returned, that I still have regrets and wasted potential. I struggle to finding meaning and importance in my life. I struggle to accept my failures and mistakes. To put away the trauma of the past.
I drive the car too much, ride the bike little. This compounds the depression. The bicycle is my best tool to fix my life, to tinker with my thoughts, to bring acceptance in my life. When itís dead cold in Chicago and I donít ride my bike I pass through a season in hell.