The unraveling starts slowly, but surely. From my earliest memories, I’ve been trying to find meaning amid the chaos. I still get the “pictures,” as a recovery friend likes to say. As I continue my research, I discover that psychologists today call those “intrusive memories.”
At times I wonder if the whole world is wrapped up in this web of dysfunction. If we’ve been marching toward this boiling point for some time now, and if we’re about to face a reckoning.
Growing up, we didn’t talk about the things that went on behind closed doors. There was a sense of deep shame, a code of silence. Yet, when we emerged from our homes, we brought the anger and fear with us.
I recall having my first suicidal thought in early adolescence. What I now know is that many of us in the neighborhood thought about it.
Some of us did it, barricading ourselves behind closed doors, guns pointed towards our heads.
Psychologists meanwhile dug deeper, probing the collective unconscious of individuals, families, towns, and America itself.
I stumbled through adolescence, scared and angry, drowning myself in drugs, alcohol, women, media, anything to numb the pain of being.
We tried to maintain relationships with each other.
We bonded over violence, sometimes fought each other, took advantage of women, fought our mothers and fathers, ended up in rehabs and psych wards, ended up in the dark alleys of the city, ended up in prisons, ended up at the end of the rope.
We told ourselves it was okay. In college, we thought we’d escape the demons, but we just brought them with us to new, exotic locales.
On an expensive Long Island campus, we exploded in anger and jealousy, we acted promiscuously, we skipped classes, we drank until we were incapacitated, we started to share our secrets and then used them as weapons against each other.
Some of us did the opposite.
We drown our sorrows in work and perfectionism, desperately climbing America’s corporate ladder, fighting for awards and achievements, challenging authority, blasting angry music from our cars. Now we did our dirt in secret, before the age of widespread social media.
All the while, most of us knew we had good hearts, that they were just damaged and hurting, and we couldn’t control our self-destructive impulses.
We wanted to be good, wanted to help others, wanted to make genuine connections, wanted to save the world, wanted families of our own, wanted to make amends with our families of origin, wanted to make peace with the past, live in the present, and plan for a bright future.
But the weight of the past, the hurt, bore down on us, sunk us in the mire, as we tried our hardest and continued to sink lower and lower.
We continue to fight
That’s when we either died or sought help.
Some of us sought therapy, or 12-step programs, or both. Some of us didn’t. Some of us continued to fight, seeking meaning in something, anything.
We were godless, and we thought we were gods ourselves. We searched holy books, churches, meditation circles, synagogues, switched religions, left religions, became atheists, became fundamentalists, became hopeless.
We continued to fight, though.
Some of us took on the new crusade of politics, embracing identity politics, and we became fundamentalists there, too.
We were angry. We began to voice our anger to everyone, we snapped at the slightest offense, we became unreasonable.
We continued to fight.
Meanwhile, life around us sped up at an alarming pace.
Workplaces became more intense, money became tighter, media became more saturated, anger grew, jobs were lost, lives were lost, and we became cynical, bitter, and resentful.
This is where we are now.
Where do we go from here?