Am I even ready to talk about this?
Honestly, I don’t even know I am ready.
Only a literal handful of people know this.
Not even my brother, my only direct blood left, knows this.
And maybe I’ve tried to lock it away like all of the other harsh realities of my life so I don’t have to look at its ugly, disfigured, terrifying face. My own face.
But writing, it turns out, seems to be a way I process my deepest thoughts and reveal my darkest woes. And reading about a fellow travel blogger, dreamer, and human being Anita Mac recently taking her own life released a flood gate of emotions about my own internal struggles.
Struggles I assumed travel would remedy. Aches I thought would be magically healed. Scars on my soul I thought would go away once I left the country. A darkness inside still omnipresent and lurking. Embers of fierce hurt waiting for a stoking wind to kick the searing flames up fiercer than ever.
It was when I was perusing travel blogs that I came upon one of Green Global Travels recent articles; an analysis of the farce that travel is the end-all-be-all-cure-all to life’s problems, and my first discovery that Anita Mac had taken her life.
I felt a sudden pang in my heart.
This dreamer, this adventurer, this traveler, and this inspiration for others had ended her life, and based on her last post on her blog, it seemed as though there was a hole so deep that travel couldn’t fill it. I never knew her, and now I will never be able to, but people who had seem to remember her as being an overwhelmingly optimistic person. A happy person. Someone who was loving life.
And then I read a post on yTravel Blog about travel being escapism, and whether it was okay to use it as an escape. And this just set me off. Not set me off because I disagreed or was offended by the article, but set me off emotionally — calling forth things I was trying to forget.
Calling forth the memory of the night I nearly ended my own life.
I have been biting my nails for nearly two weeks, and I’ve reread this hundreds of times. I even took the past couple weeks off from trying to write this article, deciding whether or not to even reveal this. My average word per minute has probably slowed to .5 words per minute. It is as if I am typing slowly to prevent this inevitable reveal. Not to you, but again to myself.
It is time to look at my ugly self in the mirror and face it.
The night I nearly ended my life was a result of a climax of denial after a year of the outrageous travel highs in New Zealand.
“My name is Ryan, and I am an alcoholic.”
I never EVER in my lifetime expected I would say those words. And sitting there in that room filled with people battling personal demons and manufactured demons, I realized I had become the monster I had always vowed I wouldn’t.
I remember when I was a very young boy attending these AA meetings with my mother. I remember going to them and not understanding why she was there, and why all of those people were there, and why they were standing and speaking like my elementary school show & tell sessions.
I remember rummaging through my mother’s tan purse that smelled like the inside of those orange prescription pill bottles for some candy, and being smacked in the hand by her.
“There isn’t any candy for you in there.”
I remember her raspy voice when she stood up for adult show and tell, her nervous facial scratching, her tears, and her self worth being at zero. But I couldn’t understand these things.
They come in flashes like an incomplete movie reel riddled with cigarette burns as numerous as the real cigarette butts in the ashtrays of both my parents vehicles during those days.
And as numerous as their fighting.
I remember the night when my father broke my mother’s ribs. It was Halloween, and the only thing that went bump in the night was my father stumbling about the house in a drunken stupor. He reeked of stale Milwaukee’s best, and he bumbled like a boulder rolling down a hill. As he fell into his chair with a trickle of beer from his last missed sip still rolling down his beard, my mother had decided to play a game on him in the Halloween spirit.
There was this toy witch on a rocking chair, and it was motion activated. When tripped, it would yell “Ahhhh hahaha! I’ll get you my little pretty!‘ My dad hated it. All night the little trick-or-treaters were setting it off, and all night he was cursing it while kicking back beers.
But my mother and I were schemers. We loved Halloween, and before the night ended we would play a trick on my father.
And it would have disastrous consequences.
I snuck up behind his reclining chair while he watched television. I placed the witch as close as I could to his head without him seeing it, and turned it on. The witch shrieked, and he jumped up from his chair startled.
Instead of him laughing at the prank, he stormed past me and charged at my mother with balled fists.
“You bitch, you put him up to this! You think it’s funny?! I’ll show you funny!”
I remember him dragging her into the bathroom. I remember her screams. I remember him kicking her while she was curled up on the bathroom tile floor crying for help.
Finally, my 6-year-old self ran up behind him and kicked him in the balls. He keeled over cursing and enraged. When he looked up from the floor at me in my pumpkin onesie, his face changed. I yelled through a tear-covered face, “Get the hell out of this house!” And so he did for the night.
And that night I vowed I would never ever be like him.
Not like my father, for he was a great man when sober, but like the monster he became that night. Never to be like my mother, who swore she would never leave me, but committed suicide and left a hurt so deep and dark I couldn’t see the bottom.
But it seems as though no matter how much I tried to hide it, deny it, and outright forget it, that monster lived inside of me in some form.
It was waiting in the darkness. Waiting for me to let myself be consumed.
The night I nearly ended my life was a result of these cigarette burns in my memories. Locked away until a climax of denial opened up Pandora’s Box after a year of the outrageous travel highs in New Zealand.
It was when I woke in a hazy blur, and tried to touch my ear that was pounding with pain, only to have my hands stopped by the cold steel handcuffs around them, that I knew I was is deep shit.
When you wake up drunk, handcuffed to a chair that is bolted to concrete, you either did something really stupid, or you are in a Saw movie. Either way it is bad, and quite terrifying.
My head swayed about like a bobble head doll. I was fully plastered, three (or all) sheets to the wind, and couldn’t remember what had happened before that moment. As I glanced about a dimly lit room licking my chapped lips, I shook my hands in bewilderment trying to make sense of the situation.
Why was I here? And why was I in handcuffs?
Ahead of me, a police officer was sitting at a table writing on a yellow note pad.
I couldn’t remember anything. I didn’t know what time it was. I didn’t know where I was.
I finally gained the composure needed to spit out an understandable slur of a sentence to the intimidating officer.
“I know I did something really bad, but I don’t remember anything. Can you please tell me why I am here?”
The officer looked up at me with a stone face.
“Oh, you’re finally here. Well, the detective gets in at 6am so you have to wait.”
Detective? What? What the hell?!
Things started coming back to me at this point. I remember speaking to the officers on the sidewalk. We had made small talk at one point while I was handcuffed and sitting against the car as they searched me. We joked a couple times. It all seemed so…nonchalant. And I thought I was probably arrested for public intoxication. But why did I have a meeting with a detective?
Turns out I fucked up really bad.
I was brought into another room and handcuffed to another cold steel chair which was also bolted to the ground.
The detective entered the room; a woman with short curly hair, wearing a unforgiving starched suit with an equally unforgiving expression. The officers exited. I was so nervous I thought I would barf, and the shivering from the cold room just added to the sickness. Or was it the fear that had me shivering and on the verge of vomiting? I was just coming out of the blackout as she began questioning me.
One thing I remember her saying distinctly across that table which seemed to stretch for infinity was, “God, I can smell the whiskey on you from here.”
The questioning soon changed from basic procedural questions to accusations. Accusations about stealing computers and drugs, two things I’ve never done.
“There has been a string of PC robberies in the last couple weeks, and you fit the bill.”
“To be honest ma’am, I have money in the bank, I have an iPhone, an iPad, and a MacBook Pro. AND I work at Apple. I would never steal a Pc!”
We both had quite a chuckle at this.
But then it was revealed just how serious the situation actually was I had put myself in.
“Well, it is pretty obvious you are not our computer thief, but why did you break into this dentists office?”
My mouth dropped in disbelief.
“There is no way I broke into a dentist office.”
“Then why did we find you passed out at the reception desk? You kicked in the door.” The detective retorted.
“You mean to tell me someone of my size kicked in a door?”
“With those shit-kickers you are wearing I have no doubt.” She said.
My normal attire didn’t give me an upper hand either. I was in my leather jacket, dark clothes, and vintage boots. Just things I wear besides my constant smile, and things that appear damning to the eye of the law that makes you a hooligan.
And by my own doing, I was damned.
A jail cell is a fucking scary place.
I honestly thought they were going to let me go. I had given every kind courtesies I could think of like, “Yes sir” and “Yes Officer” and “Yes Ma’am” and I followed every direction given without the slightest struggle.
Yet there I was, sitting uncomfortably in cold steel handcuffs behind my back that were grinding on my wrists on my way to jail. And more so than the physical discomfort and horrendous hangover, the dread of it all was like being hit in the stomach by a sledge-hammer.
I was processed at 7:am and placed in the 8X8 concrete cell, with the white metal door closing me off from the world, and separating me from any dignity I ever possessed.
Damned. And it seemed damned to purgatory. A purgatory that consisted of two small beds taken up by the four regulars, with three other fellow cell dwellers on the floor. There was no windows to give some sort of hope from the outside world, and no clock to help you from tumbling through a caged eternity.
The only shiny things in the cell was the gold tooth of one inmate glimmering in the fluorescent light as he snored, and the freestanding metal toilet. Besides that, a white void. There was no sulfur smell in this purgatory, just the smell of shit and piss and failure.
The stench of my own failure would rot and worsen throughout the day.
I was too exhausted, too hungover, and too defeated to give a damn about the piss covered floor as it sopped into my shirt when I laid down on it. I tried to drift into some far off place in my head, but I came to learn that the worst thing about jail is that you cannot escape it. Not even in your head.
I laid there for what seemed to be hours with my eyes closed, trying to sort out what had happened that night, and the possible consequences to come. I tried to sort out some kind of game plan about how I would hide this from everyone in my life. And could I figure out how to hide it from myself? I pretended to be asleep as the other cell dwellers began to liven up a bit.
In a solitary environment like that, your head could be a dangerous place to venture into. It was like a dark cave filled with fears, doubts, regrets, failures, pains, and most prominent of all — it is absent of self-worth. I began to relapse into thoughts about never getting out of this place, of the people who know me finding out, of being a disgrace, and about more permanent disappearing acts I could pull.
I had to snap myself out of these deadly thoughts.
I opened my eyes and sat up, observing the other cell dwellers conversing back and forth. Well, not conversing much, but comparing past, present, and future offenses like some sort of achievement. It seemed as though most knew all of the guards quite well. As more new cell dwellers were tossed in, guards and inmates spat jokes back and forth to each other by name.
At some point in the afternoon we were finally given something to eat and drink. I hadn’t had a sip of water or a bite to eat since before I had gone out the previous night, and I was ravenously hungry. But even the hunger didn’t help convince my brain that the stale bread and the fermenting sweaty bologna which probably sat out too long was edible. I ate it anyway.
I couldn’t tell if it was night or day, and I couldn’t even begin to guess the time. Lucky cell dwellers were called out of the cell occasionally throughout the day to meet the warden and be released, but the longer the day aged, the more demoralized I became. I was beginning to go crazy, biting my fingernails until they bled. I couldn’t stay another day in that damned place, but would I be called?
The guard stopped by around 4pm to notify us that the warden would be leaving soon, and if we weren’t called in the next hour, we would have to stay the night.
That is when panic set in. I had to get out of this place.
And just as the office was about to close, I was called. I stepped up to the window where the warden sat, and still to that moment I had a fools hope that she would give me release papers with no charges on them, and I would be free.
But I wouldn’t be free. And that night before… I had potentially ended my own life I knew it. I was damn lucky not to wind up dead getting that drunk and stumbling about, but this was a whole different kind of end to it.
The warden slid a yellow carbon copy paper to me and a print out of my court hearing. On the paper were words typed that made my whole world come crashing down.
“Charge #1 1st Degree Burglary. Charge #2 1st Degree Breaking and Entering”
The Trial of Denial
When you lie enough, your lies become a false truth. When you hide things enough, it piles up inside like a cramped closet, and one day it will come crashing out on top of you when that door is opened.
But it doesn’t matter at that moment, you are just thinking of putting these things on some high dark shelf to forget about and collect dust.
I had lied and hid things for so long about my past life to people, about my parents deaths, and about my feelings afterwards that it became natural. Little lies about minuscule things. Lies for no apparent reason. Lies to make me feel some sort of worth to someone else. I lied to myself and believed I would never be like my father and mother when it came to their poisons.
Sometimes I lied so much about my parents that it became as if I never really had parents, just a made-up figments of my imagination used to force these tragic memories away. Or as if they had never died, they were just on some vacation.
Except this incident finally opened that door.
Everything came crashing down around me, and showed me really the massive mess I had made inside of myself.
This was the biggest lie of them all. A lie that would harm myself more than the people I hurt by lying to in the process. And it began instantly and so incredibly easy.
I called my work the moment I was able to charge my phone, creating some elaborate story about mixed identities and police abuse while I was drunk. I lied to the closest people in my life; the family that for most of my life took me in as their own. And looking back, I told so many lies like they were normal that I can’t even remember who I lied to.
I lied to myself too. Somehow, even with the court papers potentially sealing my fate, I instantly discarded the problem. It would be alright. If I forgot about it, it hadn’t happened, just like the deaths of my parents.
Denial had become a part of my life. And it caused my downfall.
But this wouldn’t just go away. After “Mum” found out, the mother of the household I spent probably 50% of my childhood in which had become family, she made me realize just how dire my situation was.
I had hurt and offended her deeply. I had lied to her and I hadn’t really given it a second thought, nor had I given any thought to my court case until she told me the punishment of the charges.
“5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine”
Suicide. I’ve gone over in my head a thousand time, and a thousand more about the day my Mother took her life. I remember the unparalleled agony when I was younger. And I never could understand why someone would take their own life. I couldn’t understand it until I considered it myself.
There are times in our lives when we are tested mentally, physically, and emotionally. People “deal” with these things differently, and some create elaborate constructs in our minds to hide them away. Some try to escape. Some try to start over.
And as I faced a possible 5 years in jail and the end to my life as I knew it, I seriously pondered the more permanent end to it all.
I’ve never told anyone this. Like most emotional aspects of life, I’ve kept it to myself until now.
Suicidal thoughts were inescapable. The darkness latched onto me as I was facing the hardest self-induced challenge of my life. For my entire life I never felt I could live up to my father and brother’s expectations. I’ve struggled with self-worth being at zero to the point where wondering what people thought of me happened every second of the day. I’ve never felt good enough. So instead, I went out in life to prove everyone wrong.
When you don’t feel worthy then you shut down all emotions, and throughout my life I’ve struggled to make any sort of meaningful connection with anyone because of it.
This time the failure was to myself. When you feel unworthy to most of the world as it is, and suddenly you don’t feel worthy to even your own self, what is the point in living? When you cannot feel love for yourself, there isn’t anything else.
These are the thoughts the monster deep down inside was feeding me.
At this point I had a lawyer who was working on the case, and maybe the fact that they were able to bring the felony charges down to mis-demeanor charges helped calm down these dark thoughts. Maybe it was because I knew what pain a suicide causes your loved ones to feel.
Either way, I spent months terrified that my life was going to end and I would be put in jail, yet at the same time I was questioning my reason to live.
If I went to jail, this lofty construct or dream I had created in my mind about traveling the world was over. The only thing I thought gave my life meaning.
Leading up to my trial which would still decide if I did jail time, I was required to take weekly drug and alcohol tests, and I chose to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to help my case.
What a sick cycle life is. Little Ryan had been there many times before to those meetings with his mother and father. And here I was again.
But going to those meetings and being sober for months on end showed me above all that I had been hiding this monster inside me for so long, that finally traveling and “escaping” actually contributed to that night.
Hopefully these trickles of realizations wouldn’t be all for naught as my court date arrived.
Heading to the courtroom that day was the scariest moment I’ve lived through. I didn’t know what the outcome would be, what tomorrow would be like, or if I could handle that final failure if I did lose.
Emotions and fears flooded through me as I took a seat on the bench and spoke with my lawyer.
“They have no case at all, and I have been trying to get them to throw it out, but they want to make an example out of you because Bethesda always has problems from people at the bars.”
I felt like screaming. I felt like crying. I felt stupid. I felt frustrated at myself. I felt lonely, yet I wanted to disappear. I had gotten wasted, stumbled to a building that in my drunken state resembled the house I lived at, broken in, and passed out. But the prosecutors wanted to make it seem as though I broke in for drugs or money.
They wanted to use me as an example.
I sat anxiously on that bench for 3 hours as the judge cycled through tons of cases, most of which didn’t get a break. I practiced over and over what I would say to the judge when I faced her, trying to come up with some sort of inspirational story that might woo her into letting me go.
And then it was time. Time to see if that night, when I had made the stupidest decision of my life, would end it.
Sitting there waiting for my fate to be decided, I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to live. Not just to live as I had, but to live as much as humanly possible for myself. I was tired of holding it in. Tired of trying to impress others. Tired of trying to live up to some expectation. Tired of pretending to be happy to snub nose those who doubted me. Tired of running away.
And then the judgement came.
The warm sun shining on my face was the most amazing sensation I’ve ever felt. My skin tingled, and chills like electricity filled my body. I was free, standing outside the courthouse with my eyes closed, my face to the sun, and a smile on my face.
After speaking with the police officer from that night, it became clear to the prosecution that I had in no way intended to be in that dentist office. The officer’s testimony would have helped my case, so instead of charging me, they dropped all charges if I paid a $500 fine.
With $2,000+ spent on lawyers, $500 for damages (I totally deserved this), months of AA meetings, and a lifetime of hidden emotions revealed, it was over.
Yet, it wasn’t over. It was not a fresh start, but a realization of the things that have plagued me all of my life.
And this realization, and acceptance of my past because of this, will probably save my life from future dark moments.
Ever since I was young when my mother first took her life, I’ve thought a lot about death. It has been so prominent, yet so little talked about until now. And holding my fathers dead body in my arms tore most of happiness right out of my soul.
I will not lie, I still have plenty after dark thoughts chasing my soul and clouding my head. I still have terrible habits that I am trying to battle.
And even though I do love a good craft beer or fine whiskey to match to foods, I have to remember not to drown myself in it.
Hell, in New Zealand I can count on one hand how many times I drank over the year.
That day in the sunlight something awoke in me, something I hadn’t felt in a long time, something warm. I felt a light in my life and a purpose. It wasn’t the deceiving lullaby sang by my demons to comfort me, it was a warmth of happiness and gratitude for having a second chance.
At the end of my world as I knew it, I was able to step away from oblivion in two instances. I wasn’t going to jail, and I realized how badly I needed to focus on myself.
Travel Doesn’t Heal.
When I read about Anita Mac’s suicide, it really made me reflect more on that day I went to jail, and those moments when my life was teetering on the edge of ending it at the hands of myself and others.
What caused that night to happen? Why did I drink so much? Why was I so miserable?
Truth is, when I came back from New Zealand I felt like a failure. After all of my hoopla about starting over and chasing my dreams, I had come full circle back to a life I was running away from. And I had even convinced myself I wasn’t running away from anything.
That was the first problem. I was still running away, and still lying to myself.
I was ashamed and felt worthless, more so than ever after my attempt to escape. I did things again like I had done before to fill the holes of my unhappiness. Going out every night to get drunk in hopes of meeting a girl. Browsing dating sites in hopes of getting some small amount of attention from someone. Lying more and more.
Yet every day I felt alone. Every day I felt worthless. Every day I felt as if I was tumbling through a pointless existence.
But the fall had started in New Zealand.
You see, when I left to New Zealand I had become invigorated with a sense of purpose and life, inspired to make something better for myself.
I was fiercely dedicated to starting over. To starting fresh. To leave my past life behind and discover myself.
And that is where another deadly fault lied.
When I was in New Zealand, I thought more about my past more than ever. When culture shock hit me, I holed myself away from any and all interactions. I sat alone. I ate alone. I wandered alone. And this would be fine, because being alone on the road is a part of the journey. But I felt lonely, and that is a potent poison. The darkness I never faced began to rape my mind.
The problem with starting over is that you are brushing things aside, or hiding things away in that dark closet. Many think that travel can be their fresh start from a life that made them unhappy, and that it can heal any pains you might have.
Travel cannot heal you.
Travel cannot fix you.
Travel cannot change your life.
It has to begin with you.
If you leave on a trip without facing your inner demons, or without acknowledging those demons while on the road, it can have dire consequences.
That solitude on the road can become that white 8X8 jail cell that smells of piss and shit and failure, leading your mind to amplify the problems you’ve never faced. The monster inside will find you in your darkest and loneliest moments on the road if you don’t face it. Whether it is when you return home, while you are on the road, when you have travel heartbreak, when you have culture shock. Whenever.
Travel can help heal though.
It is not the cure to your problems. It will not magically make things go away. But what travel can do is be a part of the healing process. That solitude on the road doesn’t have to be a jail cell, it can help you sort through your true feelings and help you discover what you really need in life to be happy.
It starts with acknowledgment.
You have to be more self-aware than any point in your life while on the road. You have to be more honest with yourself than ever. You have to be more open and willing to talk about what bothers you or has you down. Travel ups and downs are way more volatile, and you have to be in tune with your emotions.
Travel can also help expose a wound that needs healing, and on the road you can truly focus on healing it. But if you ignore it as you did before, it can fester. On a journey, you mustn’t ignore your woes, you must include the in the journey as you venture forth in a pursuit of happiness.
These things must be healed.
Travel cannot be an ultimate escape.
Travel cannot make things vanish.
Travel can be a necessary escape from things in your life that are holding you back though.
By removing yourself from restrictive elements, normalcy, and comfort zones, you finally have the chance to truly work on you. You are naked in the world, able to discover things inside yourself and out in the world that you never thought existed. But opening that door will open you up to all over yourself in its entirety, and you cannot ignore that bad parts.
At the end of it all, life didn’t begin again for me, I began to finally build upon myself toward a life I want to live . I’ve become self-aware, and this is the reason I am so open with you about this. Because finally I am facing that ugly self in the mirror, a face that turns out wasn’t so ugly after all. I was just too scared to look, which made the monster in the dark more fierce, but finally I see myself looking back.
And finally I can smile.
Let my intent be known.
I am a traveler.
My Farsickness cannot be cured.
I yearn to step foot in far away places.
To traverse plains of golden grass.
To cross deserts made up of the sands of time.
To swim in waters the color of gemstones.
To stand atop mountains above the clouds.
To taste strange flavors of strange countries.
To shatter my own ignorance with each different culture.
To let my soul dance to the music of the world.
To seek self enlightenment through knowledge gained not by reading, but by experiencing.
To face my own fears, doubts, worries, and inhibitions in the pursuit of my own happiness with the ferocity of a lion.
To adventure for nobody else except myself.
To let my soul be pulled aloft to unknown places near and afar. To the physical, and the metaphysical, and in the mind, body, and soul.
I am alive, and with every precious breath I will strive to live.
It is never the destination, but the journey through the world and ones self that is a part of travel.
I proclaim, here and now, my intent to live gnarly.
And nothing will stop me.