Enslaved No More: Chris Cornell Reflections

Losing Chris Cornell hurts. Truth is, I usually don’t give a shit when some celebrity dies. What’s it really matter to me? Some rich, famous person passed away. They probably lived a good life, never knew me, and I never knew them. But this one turns my stomach and brings tears to my eyes.

Maybe it’s because his lyrics spoke to me.  I still can belt out “Like a Stone” dead on and discovered that, somehow, I wasn’t a hack when I channeled my inner Chris at Karaoke night.  His searching, his soulfulness, his spirituality, his solitary dance with sobriety and sanity- they were all mine too.  One time after I nailed singing it, some random stranger said it sounded good but found it a little dark and disturbing.  Guess she just didn’t understand- but he did and so did I.  His lyrics gave voice to the ups and downs, the questions and confusions, the pain and the pleasure that I knew well.

Maybe it was his voice.  Distinct, driving, and raspy, he soothed me when I needed to be soothed and often revved me up and pushed me through a run or a therapeutic session throwing weight around at the gym, like an animal in a cage.  He was there after an early mid-life crisis, including snapping my Rage Against the Machine CDs in half and throwing them away.  Who was I to proclaim I “Raged Against the Machine” anymore when I was enslaved by a job, a home, a cable bill, and my business casual wardrobe brought to me by Macy’s?  But Audioslave and Soundgarden had the sound I loved with the words that captured a new struggle and promised a new hope.  A little less rage but just as much disillusion, not as much nihilism but a continued acknowledgement of difficulty peppered with resilient individuality and perseverance.  Still looking for my place and my peace, his passion and perspective became the soundtrack for a decade in my life.

Maybe it was his life.  His song lyrics became a gateway to reading articles and interviews in which I discovered a man unapologetically himself- a survivor of addiction, a battler with depression, a poet who pursued his vision, a philosopher who morphed to find his truth, a loner who found solace and expression in his art, who discovered his most effective method for communication were words on a page and notes on an instrument.  His life was a journey including euphoric moments and black days but he was open with the world in each changing season and mood, allowing me to feel like I knew him and pushing me to better know myself.

Maybe it’s just me.  I cry for him knowing that the tears are for myself.  His battles with addiction are mine.  His dances with depression are some of the only steps I know.  His questions about faith voice my own doubts but, just like me, his exclamations about the beauty of life often overflow.  His ability to produce words that one day inspire and another day destroy are my words too.  His unwavering individuality is something I can only aspire to possess.  I can only hope that I find my own voice, my own lines, my own unique pitch as well.

This morning when I saw the news at first there were still questions- how did he die? did the hard living catch up? did the drowning weight of addiction pull him back down? Now I read that the cause was suicide- death by hanging in a hotel room after another rousing night on the stage.  And it hurts even more.

I can only hope and pray that somewhere Chris Cornell is in a room, waiting patiently and peacefully, surrounded by other beautiful souls finally free from the torment created by our flawed flesh and exacerbated by our perplexing world.  Death by suicide is not a morally wrong choice- it is a fatal symptom born of a devastating disease.  The darkness of depression never gets distinguished- perhaps it gets pushed away into the attics of our minds but it’s always there lurking, waiting for free reign and a chance to cast its blindfold over our eyes.

Chris Cornell’s art lives on and, therefore, in some way he does too-that is the beauty of being an artist.  But this one hurts because he was more than a celebrity; oddly enough, he was a friend.  “Be yourself,” he advised, “is all that you can do.”  I just wish that he was still with us to be himself too.

 

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Im/perfect Mask

You always say your fine,

You give the same old line.

Wearing a perfect mask,

You hide when others ask.

Inside emotions boil,

Your mind infertile soil

With weeds and rocks, decay-

Illusion saves the day.

They pass without a clue

Of hidden shades of blue;

They rush on breezing by,

Internally you cry.

Some days you drop your guise,

A break from feeding lies

With hopes that they will care;

Instead you feel them stare.

Again you wear your face

As nothing can replace

That old familiar trick-

A façade when feeling sick.

I guess it’s just your style-

You hide behind a smile.

You always say your fine,

You give the same old line.

A Splinter of Sun

A Splinter of Sun

I was broken and battered and bruised;

I was running in circles confused;

I was thinking it’s all just a ruse,

numbing pain with drugs and booze.

 

I was broken and battered and bruised,

even thinking it’s time for a noose,

often claiming there’s nothing to lose

with dark voices compelling to choose.

 

Then dark clouds covered the sun,

I lost my will to have fun.

Looking back at all I had done

felt there was nowhere left to run.

 

Then the rains came from skies-

washed away all my disguise-

cleansing all of my lies-

and I opened my eyes.

 

A splinter of sun touched my face,

I knelt on my path in this race,

decided was time to embrace

Great Spirit’s unending grace.

 

I may be broken and battered and bruised

but I still have time to choose,

sing to me you are my muse

these are the words I will choose:

 

Today my path is new,

I’m gonna come out of the blue,

see colors of different hue,

exploding as I walk with you.

 

I am healed I am helped I am held,

my spirit is yours to weld;

done sticking with my old form,

you’ve carried me through the storm.

On this day I am reborn,

you’ve carried me through the storm,

I am no longer torn.

Waiting Room

Once again I sit in a waiting room, ready to open my soul- bare- to a stranger in hopes that he can tweak me, slightly adjust these parts of my mind that seem not to work and modify my mentality. Or is a total overhaul in order? Or maybe, just maybe, nothing at all- just a swift kick in the balls?

When we sit down what should I discuss? My history exposes valleys and peaks- do I include the moments of which I rarely speak? Am I really that bad? Really that off? Or could we just look at my good side where it’s not that rough? Should we delve a little deeper, digging past the carefully crafted, meticulously maintained exterior, to expose the deep flaws and dark places hidden inside my mind?

Sitting in the waiting room, waiting to bare my soul, I realize it may be too late to claim disclosure is in my control, as the cracks are already showing I’m not whole. Straining to hold it together the past years of my life makes it easier to see that everything’s not right. Don’t judge by my appearance as it can still mislead, but get me talking about my struggles that have grown suffocating as weeds.

Time to have no fear and let it all out; not try to fight but instead laugh, cry and shout. All in one day, I’m nasty and nice; my moods vacillate with the roll of the dice. Keep quiet when I’m down and lay low when I’m high, fearing others might notice and then they might pry. Sometimes can’t stop crying when others aren’t around and other days can’t cry if my house burnt to the ground. Either laugh way too much, telling inappropriate jokes, or can’t laugh at all, even with a few tokes. For these past couple years I’ve taken many a hit, but try as a might I still feel like shit.

I’m hungry, I’m empty, I’m lost, I’m confused. Will you help me, my doctor, or is this just one more ruse?

I wait in the waiting room, with a simple appeal: fix me, doctor, fix how I feel.

A moment or two more, I’m left alone. I realize while waiting I don’t sink like a stone. All this time I’ve been staying afloat- really don’t need doc to throw me a rope. I’m open, no doubt, to learning how better to swim, receiving guidance to navigate this ocean I’m in.

But my time for waiting has now come to an end; already long overdue for me to mend. I lift up my eyes, look at the clock, no longer waiting on the doc.

Bipolar Dilemma

Bipolar Dilemma

Wee Willy Shakespeare once said, “all the world’s a stage and we are merely players.” Wise words from one of the famous founding fathers of the Dead Old White Guys (DOWGs) club who still have a stranglehold on much of the literary canon and, to a certain degree, political and financial landscape. Words that make me wonder…

What’s my role? If this world’s a stage and I’m just a player, what role do I play?

Am I meant to be behind the curtain, pulling ropes and shining spotlights on stars? Am I just a small role- not even the star in my own personal narrative? Am I a man with a mask, gaining notoriety through playing the part that others expect? Or, perhaps, just a stock character, selling out my soul and accepting a simpler role? All the uncertainty is taking its toll.

I like to think- or hope- that the answer to all the above questions is no.  Or should I say NO!!!

I am not just settling as some behind the scenes laborer, toiling away as others twirl in the spotlight, benefiting from my will and my work. I do not need to accept a minor role, allowing others to steal the show. And I certainly don’t need to continually hide who I am, itching in my own skin, wondering what will happen if I tear off the masks I wear.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t need to be the star but- at long last- I gotta be me! I need to dance like me (pretty goofy), sing like me (slightly off key), walk like me (oddly, I’m told), talk like me (kinda quirky), and think like me (preach it, brother!). I need to stop wearing masks and delivering lines that aren’t mine. I need to stand up and speak- not what I think you want me to say, but what is actually on my mind, each and every day.

So what’s holding me back, you question, dear reader of mine?

I’m afraid. Afraid of being judged.  Frightened of not being loved. Terrified of negative consequences. Concerned with ramifications of no longer wearing masks tailored to present me not as I am, but as who you want me to be. Doubtful of my commitment to pull off this part- the role of my life- of plain ol’ me.

Why the trepidation? All my life I’ve been shifting shapes just to hear “you’re doing great!” Every day I’ve been sliding into someone else’s skin, unsure if I could win.

The real me? I’m a yo-yo, up and down, sometimes a mess and yearning to grow. One day hiding pain, the next pulling up on reigns. But learning to fly under the radar is no way to be a star.

So long I’ve been taught to hold it together. Sell myself out and weather the weather. Hide all the lows and mellow the highs. Don’t show yourself- put on a guise.

But I’m thinking it’s time to come out of that closet. Set myself free, fuck easy does it.

What part will I play? I’ll play who I am. Costumes exchange. Sets rearrange. Singing high and low cuz I got some range. And if you think I’m strange? I ain’t gonna change.

 

Abstinence Song

I can ignore your Siren’s call,

Too many times you’ve made me fall.

Once I use, I become small-

Without you here, I have it all.

Keep on calling- I stand tall!

 

At times I questioned where I belong.

You made me feel right by doing wrong.

I run from you fast, I change my song.

My need for you is long, long gone.

Without your crutch, I am strong.

 

You took my peace, stole my pride.

No longer free, my hands were tied.

An honest man, I often lied,

Looked in the mirror, as tears were cried.

Each time I used, part of me died.

 

I leave behind acts of a sociopath,

Destroying myself in personal bloodbath,

Blaming carnage on a cold God’s wrath.

Done complicating, see life’s simple math:

Now at peace at this place in my path.

 

Every day living like it’s my last day.

Down on my knees to Higher Spirit I pray:

Give me your insight, show me your way,

Reveal to me now my part in this play,

Mold me great potter, I am your clay.

Bipolar Me

Today I woke up feeling a little off.  Okay, let’s make that a lot off. Lately I’ve been feeling increasingly sad and today seemed to shift it into another gear, or perhaps I should say take me to a darker shade of grey. What’s going on, you query, with this wacky mind of mine?

For starters, I miss rehab!  Crazy, huh? My family had to intervene in my life and convince me to go and now I wish I could return.  But the community and camaraderie made me feel connected in ways like never before.  There was a crew of warriors, battling individually and collaboratively, to slay our mental health demons.  For so long I had suffered alone and suddenly I found solace in knowing I was not alone. Now, sometimes, I feel alone again. And then there’s the fact that I have to cook for myself!

Since leaving my “inpatient rehab”, I’ve moved onto an Intensive Outpatient Program (or an IOP, for those in the know). My first program since leaving rehab? Not exactly a hit. One of the reasons I chose the program was due to a holistic approach and commitment to working with individuals with a dual diagnosis (as in Bipolar + Addiction = me). Now that I’ve been there a few weeks, I’ve discovered that the yoga component is a 1 hour class every two weeks, surrounded by a bunch of crude men making fart jokes, who don’t know the difference between a downward dog and an uptown socialite’s French poodle. And the dual diagnosis component? A bonus hour of therapy once a week to huddle with other patients in double trouble. For the most part, the sessions focus on addiction and utilize a group therapy format- kind of like AA, except half the people don’t want to be there and you have to pay!

So, once again, I am faced with the daunting challenge of finding an adequate treatment plan to get help. Time to complete an insurance search, utilize some search engines, pull out that dartboard, put on that blindfold, sharpen those darts (don’t worry- I won’t self harm myself- these are metaphorical darts!),  and find myself some doctors. Yes, it really does feel that random, confusing, and hopeless.  Yesterday I found a program that looked especially promising, based on a website that described their treatment of individuals with Bipolar Disorder and the fact that they accepted my insurance, as far as I could see.  I left a message yesterday but there was no return call.

Today I woke up, undeterred, and called again.  An actual human picked up!

“Hello,” I stated, playing the part of a stable person. “I was calling in regard to your outpatient psychiatric services for Bipolar Disorder?”

A quick response: “What insurance do you have?” Okay, no need to beat around the bush.

“Aetna.”

No hesitation. “We don’t accept Aetna. You should contact them for suggestions.”

My voice catching a quiver. “I did, they said they worked with you. Are you sure?”

Cold, heartless, front line of the wonderful helping medical profession replies, “Yes.” Click.

So much for that plan; so much for finding a place that seemed like a match for me.

What’s a mental health survivor, like myself, to do? I can not lie, I had a little cry. For the first time in weeks a wave of desperation washed over me and pulled me back into bed. The tears came as I wondered WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME?, once again. My old familiar refrain. So much has changed but that thought remains the same, sneaking out of the attics of my intellect and stabbing at my soul, kicking at my spirit, meddling with my mind. You may have been up but now you are down; time to replace that smile with a frown. Happiness stop coming round, we gonna keep this brother down.

But the story doesn’t end there. I let the emotions wash over me then I moved on. I pulled out some of the tools from my Mental Health Survivor Toolkit.   I read a daily devotional (okay- I read like three!) and had a (not so) Manic Mindfulness Moment.  Next I whipped out a little bit of my newly acquired Negative Self Talk Remover with the secret ingredient of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for those in the know), guaranteed to make crazy, defeating thoughts at least 73% weaker (statement not tested or approved!).

There is nothing wrong with me. I am alright. I am strong. I am a survivor. I am in recovery. I will get through this moment and get through this day. I will get help. I will help myself. I am at peace on this place in my path- and it feels right.

Then I sat my Bipolar butt down at the keyboard and cranked out this journal. And you know what? I now feel a little better. Time to go throw some darts, hoping for a bullseye at last.

My name is Tryantobenew and I am Bipolar. I am a mental health survivor.