Suicide and Breakfast

Famous psychologist Jordan B Peterson opens up about his friend's suicide and the danger of intellectual arrogance.

Marriage as Martyrdom

Someone recently said of marriage that it is the only martyrdom in which you get to pick the instrument of your death. Of course it is not so much a physical death, though your physicality is a part of your sacrifice, but it is also the laying down of your ego, your self will, your time, your passions, your selfish desires… all the things that are ultimately harder to give up for the long haul than your physical life in a split second.

I (like most of us I suspect) chose marriage before I knew the true meaning of the sacrifice required. And being deluded by passion, I also didn’t know the depth of my self-centeredness nor my true capacity to make that sacrifice. I look back now on more than half my life that I’ve shared a house, a bed, and children with someone I chose (and who chose me.)

I think of all the things I have seen and done and shared with someone within marriage. I think of the things I accomplished at too great an expense. I remember all the secret self-indulgences, the wastes of time, the compromises I made and the lies I told that barely covered them. I think about the things I have failed at, the times I didn’t show up when I needed to be there physically or spiritually. I think about all the ways I’ve fallen and caused grief and pain to those I’ve loved and fallen out of love with. I think of the unforeseen twists of fate and the turns I’ve taken that took everyone around me down dark paths. I think of the joys mingled with sorrows, the regrets, and the grace of happiness unsought and undeserved. I think of the decades of day to day monotonous sacrifices I’ve endured and all the ways I’ve sinned to ease the pain. I think of all the nights staring into the darkness dragged down by the weight of things that could have been, but I know will never be, my unfulfilled goals, the hopes unrealized, the things that might have been “if only…” If only I had been wiser if only I had been stronger if only I had been more spiritual or even something as mundane as just wealthier. Ultimately these things are evidence that what I was I brought into my marriage, and what I am becoming is the hard work of love within it.

I wake up, I come home from work, I go to sleep and my wife is there with me. I look upon the woman I love, my chosen martyrdom, who shares our children, my table, my couch, my bed.

I think of the deaths we’ve shared, the passing of best friends and of parents. I think of the people we’ve drifted away from, and of the conflicted loss of the respect and trust of old friends. I think of the friends we’ve gathered in our joint history. Together we are facing the impending death of friends, and we know we continue to face the death of friends and family that will come out of season and in unimaginable ways. Together we’ll share the anxious joy of our children’s new lives apart from us.

I see my wife both in my memories and in the present moment. The years have etched their indelible marks upon her skin. I see the lines of her face radiant in the morning sun. In the night as we lay together and no words are needed nor hoped for, I hold her aging hand in mine. I know the history of her skin, the silken beauty of her youth lost, the silent frailties now overtaking her bones. Time has done us both irreparable harm, neither of us are as young as we used to be.

But I have no desire to hold a hand that has not touched death, nor do I wish to look into glittering, hopeful, shallow eyes that have not seen my world. I have no longing for the false comfort and the old man’s lies of an embrace of a smooth body. I want to face the remaining days of my life with the one whose body, soul and spirit have been my faithful companion in all I’ve revealed in, longed for, ruined, loved and failed at in life.

I love you, Maggie. I still don’t know why you are the one in my bed, and I still love looking up and seeing you across the dinner table… I pray I never cease to be amazed.

In the room but not really in the room

My mother always said it was the curse of the Cephalonian people, my Greek ancestors, known for their existential brilliance, mental illness and eternal fatalistic despair. My father said it's just plain old narcissism and the cure is to go help someone else. 

It’s just a feeling I have had since I can remember being alive. 

No psychiatrist or therapist has been able to diagnosis it, at best they medicated me for 2 years in high school so I wouldn't kill myself. In the rooms of alcoholics anonymous they refer to it as a spiritual malady, the reason many of us relieved ourselves through the bottle. The Christian mystics coined it as Acedia, "a state of listlessness or torpor, of not caring or not being concerned with one's position or condition in the world. Often leading to a state of being unable to perform one's duties in life." Jeff Foster an astrophysicist explains "depressed" spoken phonetically as "deep rest". He goes on to challenge the stigma of depression as mental illness, with the idea that on a deeper level depression is a profound, and very misunderstood, state of deep rest entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own identity. 

Some of the semantics are fun to play with, I could go on, but you get it. Like a black hole or parts of our world unknown, many have attempted to explore depression with futile research, self-help programs, and psychological trickery. The recent suicides of beloved actors, musicians and wander lusting celebrity chefs don't help either. Add on a postmodern revolution of positive thinking, overly prescribed pharmaceuticals, forced self-esteem, social apps that work like slot machines and the endless pursuit of happiness and you can see where this epidemic gets a lot more complicated.  

Somewhere along the way I just stopped working against it and accepted it as my baseline, or as a passing cloud formation. I accepted my inability to find joy in the mundane drudgery of human life. High-school homework, making the bed, any routine, or anything without a clear dopamine reward in site and my gears would always shift down, my mind aching for that eternal sleep. Distraction, over-intellectualization, over-working, therapy, physical exercise, and multitasking, often got me outside of myself and worked for a small window, but eventually, I had to enter back into the despair and face life on life's terms. 

My wife who is wonderfully pragmatic and lives deeply into the moment always challenges me that I am ‘future tripping' or ‘living in the past' but 'shitting on the present'. The school's socio psychologist came over recently to evaluate our son's misbehavior and stated something similar. Watching our son act out, she affirmed the same thing our dog trainer said years ago when that little monster was biting everyone. A missile to my fragile masculine ego. She stated, "You are simply lacking an Alpha leader in the house. You're in the room but not really in the room and that creates anxiety for your children and wife." I almost clapped back with cunning sacrcasm to avoid what was coming next, but instead I ran through the internal Rolodex of denial. "I am sole financial provider, I stay sober, I am brutally honest under God, I work harder than any workaholic I know, what else do you fucking want from me…" I remember her watching my nonverbals, my arms crossing, my slouching in the chair, suddenly I was in my body feeling the cognitive dissonance, aware of my own shame and pain. I faintly remember her saying something like "there you are!" as if to state I hadn't been in the room before. She went on, "Next time your son is playing with his toys, go over and watch him, really watch his breathing, his eye to hand coordination, get into his world, being Alpha simply means being fully present, it is not barking orders or putting your foot down, it is about being fully with him." I was still hunched over a bit, too shameful and afraid to speak up and mention how hard it has been to live in the moment with my looming despair. Too embarrassed to admit how hard it is to change diapers, watch Toy story again and again and again and remain a forever Disneyland seasonal pass holder. There was so much shame and I didn't want to appear as any less of a father, a man without a sense of duty to his family. My wife grabbed my hand, I was drifting again, I took a deep breath, I hadn't been breathing, just biting the skin on the inside of my mouth, I think I blacked out a little, then suddenly the socio psychologist finished…"for both of you, this is what it means to be adult, where feelings are not facts and you get the choice to face life fully present, head on, it will be the best thing you can give your children, your presence." 

It has been a year since that meeting and I often find myself drifting in and out of the solution. There are moments where I am selfless enough or brave enough to go there but it does not come naturally, to just simply be. Reading a book on aplha leadership, acedia, depression or listening to a podcast on parenting styles seems to be the easier way, but I now know that it is just another form of escapism, a coping mechanism for my despair. I know I must be with my son now.

It has been my prayer recently, with or without depression, with or without that looming dread, that if God can not relieve me from the bondage of it that he would at least help me find a bare-able presence with myself and my loved ones. That I might have enough courage and grace to live responsibly moment to moment. 

Picture / Joshua Olley

How I'll leave my mark on the world

I was polishing wine glasses behind the bar when the restaurant manager sat down across from me.“Pour two shots of Stoli,” he said. I set up two pony glasses in front of him and poured the shots. He slid one back to me and said, “Cheers.” It was a slow night and he wanted to chat.“So, why do you write fiction?” He asked, knowing that was what I did all day before coming into work. “Fame and fortune,” I said, giving my standard answer. “Not because you love it?” “Oh, I love writing. I would do it even if I never got published, but making money from it is certainly a driving force.” “Any other reasons?” He inquired with a raised eyebrow. “I suppose it’s how I’ll leave my mark on the world.” “Ah, your legacy.” “Yes. How about you, don’t you want to do something that people will remember you for after you die?” “So that strangers, people I don’t know, will remember me?” He shook his head. “No. My legacy is my children.” “No kidding,” I thought, “You have five of them.” He continued, “The time I spend with them, the experiences we have, the memories we make together will be enough for me.” 

Robert Evans Wilson Jr. / Image: Andrew Bush 1991

By Proxy

I gave some more time to the conversation we had earlier today. My personal reflection unveiled some insight I hadn't thought about during our call. 

If you are going to tackle this issue it's important to consider the ways that perceived adjacency shapes the way a person feels about themselves. These young men don't just see their gurus as distant mentors, they start to see them as peers- especially the ones who are on podcasts. If you absorb enough content that person puts out, you start to feel like you know them, especially when it's through an informal medium like podcasts. In their own right Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, and others like them, have achieved huge success. They did so over long careers, they took risks, they set out to face the world. Their wisdom comes from real life experiences, real failures, and real success. Their pupils forget that wisdom comes after long careers. You can't just fast forward to the end result. 

Although it's very easy to hide from your failures behind someone else's success, or the wisdom they impart. If I fail at something, I can memorize some wisdom I heard from a respected teacher and say that I now possess the same wisdom. It shelters me from actually having to learn from that failure, from having to face it, from having to bear the humiliation of it, and from ultimately having to rebuild from that failure. At this time in my life, my biggest failure and regret is that I failed to make the best of the opportunities that I've had before me. So I try to attach myself to peers who found success because they tried. I can be a name dropper sometimes and it's a bad characteristic. Their success isn't mine, it just helps me hide from my sense of embarrassment about myself. In the same way, a lot of these other young men attach themselves to their teachers to hide from their failures or their low self-esteem. It's a success by proxy, character development by proxy, and wisdom by proxy. It's a way to experience the world without actually having the guts to step out on your own. 

No Silver Lining

I finished a long commercial project yesterday on a high note. It has been many jobs like this back to back. Crew coming up afterward expressing deep gratitude and joy, a few telling me they loved me, holding me tight before departing. It has been overwhelming the amount of positive feedback. Today as it all slowed down, finishing the race well, patting myself on the back, reflecting on the season as a whole, I watched the first edit of my commercial. Suddenly and without warning, despair sieged my soul. The mediocrity of it all just fucking sank me. It is for a financial institution, just like the last one and the one before it. Banal, vapid of anything good or worthy of attention. Something I promised myself I would never do as an emerging indie filmmaker. I sank in my chair, the warm glow of set life comradery vanished, I thought, "It might as well have been for Mc'Donalds." There is a grief I have been trying to suppress this year, hoping it would pass over me in my overworking and incessant doing. Making my family the kind of money that brings great security in a freelance, dog eat dog, race to the bottom culture. Professing to everyone that relationships are more important than achievements while battling my cognitive dissonance, realizing deep down I can not handle my own diminishing artistic achievements. It is a kind of grief I have not been able to articulate. Making the money but not the art. Being a good man of character with average abilities, having struck luck in the past, privately praying my muse might visit me again. Somewhere here in the middle of life, provider, 2 kids, a wife, a house in a homogenous suburban enclave, overpaid and overweight, with another vapid commercial under my belt. Another man coming to terms with his finitude and obsolescence, here I am. It is not easy. I called my dad tonight, he immediately started laughing. My fear of lacking cultural relevance and high art just cracked him up. "Thanks Dad, I'm serious, this shit is real." He said "let me make it easier for you son, stop right there, stop...." I was breathless trying to get it all out so he could unpack if for me and find the silver lining. He said "son, there is none. No silver lining. So stop the resistance. I'll give it to you now, now that your old enough to really hear ready? It's really simple. Your life is no longer about you, it actually never really was. Go kiss your kids and a big welcome to adulthood."

Certificate of Recognition

I had always been troubled by the statement Jesus made to Peter out on the sea of Galilee, after his first recorded miracle. The story goes that two average nobody fisherman, Simon, and Peter, were out there fishing an empty lake, no fish on the line, nothing to bring home for dinner. It had probably been a few days and the weary nobody fishermen were ready to throw in the towel. Jesus strolls up, tells them to cast their nets again, and suddenly they pull up an overwhelming, jaw-dropping bounty of fish. In Luke and Matthew, it suggests they dropped to their knees in awe. Jesus then says something to the effect of…"Good, now that you trust my power, drop those raggedy useless old nets and become a fisher of men.." In Luke, it says "So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him." Even post Resurrection, Jesus comes back to find Peter, his main man, back fishing upon the lake, and calls him off that dead-end job for good. Jesus was only satisfied with Peter when his chips were all in.

It had always troubled me that this similar moment might one day pop up on me. God showing up in my dry and barren desert of existence with a sudden miracle, and then a call to leave the dismal domesticated American life I so dearly cling to. I imagined it as a call out into the world, away from the small town where I grew up, the place of comfort and security, my nagging wife and ungrateful children. It lined up with every hero's journey: the call to adventure and real purpose with high stakes, and the spirit of God filling your sails.  

But this day in my own life never came, well at least I hadn't recognized it or I didn't want to. I often thought maybe I was too much of a coward, always one foot in and one foot out, too filled with fear to leap. I had passively attempted it a couple of times but always found myself having to return to the mundane old shitty fish-less net, you know the dismal day-to-day stacked up pressures of modern life. 

I had seen others attempt it, some struck with a call from God; many with sudden great missional exuberance. Some left for monasteries; others headed for ashrams in India, and the more virtuous of the bunch hunkered down in Mother Teresa type situations, long-suffering with the poor. It would be those that had left their security, comfort and illusionary constructed American life that I deemed Godly, Holy and brave enough to live the real Christian life. 

I am 37 now, two kids, a wife, a big home in a suburban enclave, a little extra fat around the waist, and a private yearly craving for the new season of The Bachelor. When I get a second to myself which isn’t often I try to burn off the extra twenty-five pounds with a walk around the block, often passing the Greek Orthodox Church where I was baptized, doing my cross in hopes that God forgives my apathy. 

It would be on one of these walks a few months ago that Jesus would finally show up with the miracle. A small car approached me from behind: inside an old friend, one of those mystics that had gone to India years ago, found enlightenment, yoga, came back to lose everything to drugs and alcohol, escaped death, became sober, found God again, and was now living out of his car on a new mission. I thought of the other friends that had dropped their nets; some lasted but most didn't, one ended up walking away from the monastery in the desert, got lost, and died from dehydration. Another went completely broke and started selling drugs, shot his mom in a cocaine-induced psychosis and is spending many years in prison. Others moved back in with family and are now seeking steady work. But here, here in front me was the possibility that one man had finally figured it out.  His eyes were large, filled with empathetic tears; his hug was long. He sat on his old 70's Toyota. I imagined it like the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem, showing his great humility. We spoke of his escapades, his revelations, his new commitment to the poor in downtown LA. He was living out of his car but believed God would sustain his mission. When I asked about his wife and his two teenage daughters he mentioned they weren't really on good terms anymore; she had moved them back in with her mother because of financial difficulties. 

There was something eager in him to skim over all of that domestic baggage and get back to the work he was doing for God out on the fringe, with the lepers and the nobodies of our world. His Instagram revealed evidence of countless lives touched and saved. Fishing for men who needed haircuts, clothing, and food, he was filled with a final sense of purpose and calling. He invited me out that day but my commitment to picking up my kids from school superseded the bubbling up of spiritual revelation I was having. As he left my presence in a rush to get back ‘to the fishing for men', I felt great despair setting in as the moment of courage escaped me. Crossing myself, I asked for forgiveness. 

A few weeks later The Bachelor was on. My son was sick with a bad cold; my daughter was puking violently from a stomach bug and my wife and I argued about whether or not to take another trip to Disney Hawaii. The crushing blow of my Godless inadequacies had sharpened, the feeling of fruitless, never-ending consumeristic endeavors overwhelmed me. Stuck in the throes of providing for my family without any real recognition or overwhelming zeal I sat that night ruminating on my fatalistic apathy. How could I have missed the call, the action, why couldn't I just drop this heavy tattered domestic burden and get to the real work of God? 

As the poisonous self-loathing bubbled up, I received a text message: an image of a Certificate of Recognition my friend had just received from the mayor of the city we live in.

I stared at it for a long while. I thought about my friend out there living in the cold harsh Los Angeles homeless camps, the momentum he was creating online, the esteem he was building with every soul he was saving. The overwhelming despair consumed me. 

And then suddenly like that, the miracle came.  Well, at least the call from God that I had been waiting for. As I turned from looking at the Certificate of Recognition back to my wife.  In her very social worker, pragmatic, German way, she was looking sharply into my eyes. As if God finally spoke, dispelling my eternal longing for spiritual grandeur once and for all, she leaned in intensely and said…"Tell your friend to go get a job and pay back all of his overdue child support. Then and only then will I believe it's from God and it isn't just about his longing for recognition and escaping the responsibilities of adult life." 

The pillows on the couch were suddenly softer that night, my sleep was deeper than usual. I had a sense that maybe my interpretation of Peter dropping his net was more skewed by the modern myths of wanderlust and hero journeys.  It made me think that maybe there were other stories and characters in the long list of virtuous long-suffering men that I hadn't considered and that maybe, just maybe, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  

Living in the Real World - and Really Living

Nothing exists in general. If something is beautiful or good, it is manifest in a particular way at a particular time such that we can know it. And this is our true life. A life lived in a “generalized” manner is no life at all, but only a fantasy. However, this fantasy is increasingly the character of what most people think of or describe as the “real world.”

A monk lives in a monastery. He rises early in the morning and prays. He concentrates his mind in his heart and dwells in the presence of God. He will offer prayers for those who have requested it. He will eat and tend to the work assigned for him to do. And so he lives his day. He works. He prays.

And someone will say, “But what does he know about the real world?” But what can they possibly mean? He walks on the earth. He breathes the same air as we do. He eats as we do and sleeps as we do. How is his world any less real than that of anyone else on the planet?

A man lives in a city. He wakes in the morning, turns on the TV as he gets ready for the day. He dashes out the door (he’s running late). He gets to his car, listens to the news on the radio, takes a couple of calls on his cell phone. He gets to work and for every minute he does something that he thinks of as “work,” he spends at least another checking his email, looking quickly at Facebook, and maybe checking the news. He gets into an argument at lunch about what should be done somewhere else in the world and who should do it. Angry and distracted, he is frustrated with himself because he swore he was not going to have that same argument today. He goes back to work with the same routine. After work he drops by a bar, has a couple of drinks and decides to stay and watch some of the game. He gets home late and heads to bed.

Who is living in the real world? The man-in-the-city’s life is “real,” it actually happens. But he is distracted all day from everything at hand. He never notices himself breathing unless he’s out of breath. He swallows his food as quickly as possible. Even the beers he has at the bar are as much for the buzz as for the taste.

If the man refrained from these things his friends might taunt him, “What are you? Some kind of monk?”

What is the “real” that we should live in?

Increasingly, the modern world lives in distraction. But on account of the dominance of shared media experience, that “distraction” is treated as somehow “real.” The daily, sometimes non-stop, attention to this distracted “reality,” creates a habit of the heart. It is a common experience for someone “cut off” from this shared media experience to feel isolated and alone. Of course, three days of no media changes nothing. My attention to the distraction is not at all the same thing as attention to the world itself. For whatever reality might be, it is decidedly not the distorted snapshots presented in our newsfeed.

The experience of “reality” that is media-generated has the character of “things in general.” The habits that form within us as we give attention to this abstraction are themselves vague and ill-defined. We “care” about something, but we have nothing in particular that we can do about it. We are angry over extended periods about things that are greatly removed from our lives. Our attention itself becomes a passive response rather than a directed movement of the soul. Our lives largely become an experience of manipulation – only it is we ourselves who are being manipulated.

Against this is the life of Christian virtue. It is little wonder that frustration accompanies our efforts towards acquiring the virtues. The soul whose habits are formed in the distracted world of modernity cannot suddenly flip a switch and practice prayer of the heart. We sit still and attempt to pray and our attention wanders. It is little wonder that our attention wanders. It has been trained to be passive and follow a media stream. In the stillness of the soul, there is no media stream and our attention feels lost and empty.

This is the reason for the life of the monk. He lives as he does in order to be attentive to reality – to see and hear, taste and touch what is true and at hand. It is not so different than most human lives 200 years ago, before the rise of mass culture. And it is real. Deeply real. It is also the basis of the sacramental life. God gives us Himself, His life-creating grace, in very concrete and particular ways. The reason is simple – we were created to live in a concrete and particular way. The life of abstraction is alien to the life of grace. There is no sacrament of the abstract, vague or general. The only Presence is a real presence.

If we want to pray, then we will have to live as though we are praying. We cannot live in the abstract and suddenly attend to the real. We cannot “care” and then turn to love. “To live” is an active verb. The passions of mass experience are something else.

Live. Love. Eat. Breathe. Pray.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

The Scarab Beatle at Carl Jung's Window

Synchronicity is a concept, first introduced by analytical psychologist Carl Jung, which holds that events are "meaningful coincidences" if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. It was an Acausal Connecting Principle. Jung believed coincidences were "more than chance, less than causality", but instead a "confluence of events in a numinous or awesome atmosphere." He also was convinced that these synchronicities arose during points of crisis in people's lives and contained insights for future growth and development.

In his book Synchronicity Jung tells the following story as an example of a synchronistic event:

My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Cartesian rationalism with an impeccably "geometrical" idea of reality. After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself. Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab — a costly piece of jewellery. While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the window-pane from outside in the obvious effort to get into the dark room. This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green colour most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab. I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, "Here is your scarab." This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results. 

Saved By A Mental Breakdown

My throat suddenly clenched closed, it was hard to breathe, the first thought was that I was having a panic attack. I was no stranger to the sudden strike of impending doom or a ferocious wave of a death mongering adrenaline. But never a clenched throat. I struggled to swallow, I checked my pulse, I planted my feet on the ground, I went through the checklist the psychiatrist had once given me. "Alright panic if you're here, then bring it on, I am ready." I had learned early in my formative years of getting sober that fighting the wave of impending doom only gives it more steam. So there I was, ready, surrendered to the terror, letting it have its way. The next day at the doctor's provided little relief, "…Well, sir, I think it might just be anxiety, go home and get some rest, maybe stick with liquids for now." That evening the anxiety turned into what felt like a total collapse of my psyche, it was hard to focus, hard to breathe, I became trapped in a thought that I couldn't shake. I pulled off the freeway. "Am I supposed to keep myself breathing or is my breathing on autopilot?" Suddenly I was hyperventilating, I had just made it into my garage and closed the door, the confusion and fear were unbearable. An all-engulfing flame of terror had overwhelmed me, it would soon incinerate the life I was desperately holding onto. 

To back up, a few weeks earlier I had just finished a year-long journey through the St. Ignatius spiritual exercises. A deep contemplative imaginative meditation on the life of Christ, forty minutes of silence every day. A recommendation from a dear friend after I expressed a feeling of being overworked, numb and distant from God. During the last session with my spiritual director, a wonderfully intuitive woman, she warned me that in my mediations she noticed I was never going to the cross with Jesus but instead watching it from afar, as a kind of bystander. She advised me to be careful on the other side of the work we had done because it was not finished. She spoke frankly, "It's interesting how much you avoided the cross, be careful this coming year…". I understood there was some death or surrender I was consciously or unconsciously avoiding but figured because I had worked the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous, surrendered a whole bunch of power over there, I was surrendered enough. It was during this year of spiritual exercises my prolific career as a director also hit a slump, I lost several jobs in a row, my wife had gone to get her masters degree, and I was suddenly alone with myself and my pain. Hindsight I think that repressed fear or whatever that darkness was that grabbed ahold of my throat that day and sent me on a tailspin, I think somehow it had been suppressed my entire life. Busyness, distraction, over-eating, drinking, you name it helped fend it off for a season but it was always there lurking. 

But back to the everlasting panic attack. It was after a week of not being able to eat, sweating profusely at night, and feeling like real death was upon me, my wife God bless her, had had enough. I finally called my spiritual director who was also a psychiatrist. I remember it as clear as day: "…We can get you on medication if it becomes unbearable but I recommend staying the course." That simple, as if she knew something I didn't. It was after that I would face the collapse of my mind and journey into the darkest night of my soul. The agony and terror were inarticulable. I finally understood why some men take their own lives. I held onto my sponsor in AA, I would lay on his couch often barely able to keep my head up as he took me back through the 12 steps. The more I worked with him the more I realized how truly un-surrendered my life was. It was clear I had somehow white-knuckled my way through early sobriety, eventually taking all of my self-reliance and willpower back. It would be over four months later that the horror of this prolonged panic finally subsided. I was forty pounds lighter, laying on my back in our backyard looking up at the sky. I told God that I give up. I said it with the core of my being like a dying person's last breath. "Into your hands, I commit my spirit," I remember my sense of smell coming back, my ears kind of opening, I tasted what someone was cooking in the distance. I cried, I wasn't afraid and I wasn't numb. Later that day I waited to surprise my wife on the USC campus, I was perched up high on a grass hill. As I overlooked the body of students I felt a sort of weightlessness as if I was one with the grass and trees. I was translucent, the students were a part of me and I was part of them. I knew it deeply. It all sounds airy-fairy now but there was a golden hue to everything as if I was seeing another dimension, another kingdom. The moment felt like grace or a gift on the other side of a kind of ego death.  As much as I tried to hold onto the feeling into the night it disappeared like a gentle breeze. I missed it. It was heavenly and I felt free for the first time in my life, I knew I would never be the same after that. Some friends since have tried to explain similar experiences through the use of DMT, ayahuasca, or kundalini exercises, but it never really sounds the same. The boy that finally died on that cross was dead. That death has given the words of that murderous Apostle Paul to the church of Galatians a new meaning: "It is no longer I who live…"