Wading Through The Fog of Depression

By Christopher Dale 05/25/17

An alcoholic relapse would lead to dangerous, disorienting depression from which I may never reemerge.   

Christopher Dale and his family.

For the second time in my life, I probably could have done it. I was unstable enough to commit suicide. 

The first time had been five years earlier - before I became an active alcoholic. Anxiety and depression run in my family, and I was cursed with a nasty strain of both. Add a freak, serious medical issue in my early 20s and you had a man-child whose psyche spiraled steadily downward over the final few months of 2006. 

I wasn't sleeping, barely eating and, through a stunted, panicked internal monologue, struggling to grasp what was happening. I had descended into a fog. 

My then-fiancé - now thankfully (still) my wife – didn't know what to make of it. It was like, she later explained, trying to converse with an astronaut on a space station: I was operating on a five-second delay, as if her words had to travel a great distance before being heard, understood, and met with responses – ones that, increasingly, had neither relevance nor eloquence. I was rambling, mumbling, borderline incoherent.

I landed in the hospital, after the noise and confusion blocking my brain finally made it incapable of falling asleep - at all - for a full week. I was in a dangerous place, one where an unbearable amount of mental turmoil and physical pain combined with irrational thoughts and increasingly erratic behavior. The previous day, I had abruptly left work and stumbled aimlessly around Manhattan for several hours, coatless in the dead of winter. 

Like an alcoholic in a prolonged blackout, I don't remember much from those desperate days, and was not accountable for my actions. Had I jumped in front of a subway train, it would not have been suicide so much as a deranged lunatic murdering the body he currently occupied. At its most severe, depression is a perilous, unpredictable non sequitur; there was little connection between my established self and the punch-drunk dope wheeled into an emergency room, pumped full of fluids and, for weeks thereafter, tended to by family and friends - half TLC, half suicide watch.  

Seeing Through the Fog

As the fog lifted, I found the perfect solution to anxiety and depression. Alcohol settled my nerves, improved my outlook, helped me sleep. Earlier in life, I had drank socially; when anxiety and depression made me anti-social, I had shelved the alcohol along with the friendships. Silly me!

Considering the forum, anyone reading this can envision the rest. Steady progression, physical addiction, mental obsession. Sick days, ruined relationships, sullen vows to quit. Unemployed, unemployable, nearly unmarried.  

And finally: under arrest. A no-doubter, clipped-a-cab-and-kept-going, twice-the-legal-limit DUI.  

Somewhere between spending the night in jail and being released - sans driver's license - the following evening, the fog returned. The ensuing days were a floating out-of-body experience, during which I saw - but not so much heard - my wife yell and cry, relatives lecture, friends rebuke and, one Thursday night in October 2011, fellow alcoholics welcome and comfort. 

Most alcoholics take Step 1 having drank ourselves into a corner. We've lied, stolen, and cheated our way into a situation we can no longer lie, steal or cheat our way out of. I was out of excuses, out of leeway and, at the pound of a gavel, out of a getaway car. I was trapped in a cage built, ironically, a bar at a time. 

I was at a dead end – and considering this, I’d always seen my getting and staying sober as the path of least resistance. I really didn't have any means of drinking and - here's the kicker - getting away with it. You don't get credit for making the right choice when you have no alternative. 

But recently, I realized there was an alternative – a result that, in hindsight, would have been unsurprising given my depth of confusion, depression and pain. There was no self-esteem, no hope, no roadmap as I left that courtroom in Manhattan; there’s no logical course of action for someone stricken completely senseless.  

In that state, it’s not hard to imagine a quick, definitive death appearing preferable to the slow, uncertain slog of recovery. A broken man is malleable – for better or worse. I could have easily chosen suicide over salvation.

At that moment, there were no guideposts – no lighthouses to help steer through the fog. Besides, where exactly was I going? I’m not one of those alcoholics who needed to recapture happiness; I’d never been happy. In my dumbfounded fragility, a destination indefinable was a destination unreachable.    

I may never completely piece together how, exactly, the fog lifted. Suffice to say that, in such a tenuous state, every little bit helped. And the understanding and acceptance emanating from the rooms of AA certainly played an outsized role. I hadn’t felt even a sliver of hope in a long, long time. AA changed that. 

Hopefully, these revelations concerning my ultra-early sobriety make me less likely to take recovery for granted. We've all heard the notion that an alcoholic may have another drink in him, but may not have another recovery. For me, that climb would come through a dense, potentially impenetrable layer of fog – a wildcard only true depressives know.  

For now I move forward, with a healthy fear of fog. 

Christopher Dale is a freelance writer who frequently covers recovery-based issues. 

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Chris & Nicholas Dec 2017.JPG

Christopher Dale is a recovering alcoholic and freelance writer who frequently covers sobriety, parenting and politics. His work has appeared in Salon, The Daily Beast, New York Newsday and Parents.com, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter at @ChrisDaleWriter.