Swimming Upstream – an Autobiography (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1 – Learning to Learn. Or go to INDEX.


The first few years in Ohio were emotionally devastating for my mother. We lived in abject poverty even by our standards, my mother’s family proved to be more dysfunctional than our own, and work, except for the lowest paid positions, was tough for her to find. I began working before and after school to help out, lying about my age to avoid problems. I also found my missing childhood. My ‘toys’ were different than anyone had hoped, but they succeeded in dulling the pain. By sixteen I drank constantly, was addicted to speed, and had forced my mother to seek a community more conducive to a normal childhood. We moved to Newark, Ohio during my junior year. The school administrators were a little worried about my record, but seemed encouraged by my high grade point average. I graduated in possession of a full scholarship from OSU, twenty-five credits when seventeen were needed, damage from a heart attack I suffered during a speed overdose, and a new addiction to qualudes, which the doctor prescribed for “sleeping problems”. I also held the school record for drinking the most beers in a single sitting. Life was good.

I made on attempt at returning to church when I was seventeen. I strolled into 2nd Presbyterian Church in Newark, Ohio – not high, but dressed in my usual fashion. My reputation evidently preceded me, as several people recognized my scruffy face – or perhaps they just saw the stereotypical hippie of whom society seemed so afraid. Anyway, after being called to chat with two or three of these people, the pastor in full regalia wandered toward me with the most benign smile on his face. Still smiling, he grabbed my right bicep in a way that probably seemed friendly to witnesses but, I am here to tell you, just about stopped the blood flow to my hand. He leaned forward, now smiling even more broadly, and said in an almost whisper, “We do not want your kind in here – this is a place for respectable people. You will have to leave now.” As I turned to leave, I heard him say, to my back, “1st Presbyterian has a coffee shop that probably right up your alley.” So much for God.

After the beginning of my second quarter at OSU my advisor suggested I leave, just in case I’d ever want to return. At OSU you were permanently expelled if you accumulated fifteen deficiency points. After one quarter I had accrued fourteen. My honors advisor suspected I wasn’t ready to apply myself. Of course, in the process I kissed off a full scholarship.

I had been working as a lab technician in an optometrist’s office part-time when I finished high school. After dropping out, Dr. Haynes gave me a full-time position and decided he was going to rehabilitate this “terrible waste of a brain”. While I didn’t become drug and alcohol free, Dr. Haynes, himself an advanced alcoholic, taught me how to balance the parts of my life to become functional. He also allowed access to his extensive library of optics and optometry books. Over the next two years, several times a day, he would try to ask a question I couldn’t answer. The penalty for a wrong answer was to spend an hour in research, and then add an hour of work to the end of the day. At first I spent many twelve to fifteen hour days at the office, but during the last six months I worked for him he couldn’t stump me. By November of 1975, I was deciding between three job offers.

Just after I started working for Dr. Haynes, I got married. I met Jan in a bar and we were married two months later. By the winter quarter of 1975, I enrolled in night school at OSU. This just happened to coincide with my new job with Dr. Bailey on Fifteenth Ave., right across from the OSU campus. Long hours away from my bride of two years weren’t the reasons for this change, but were certainly added benefits. We despised each other. Two terribly dysfunctional children couldn’t begin to find a way to love. As a result of the financially disastrous divorce, and the increasing episodes of severe depression, I withdrew from OSU again after just six quarters. During the last two it proved impossible to manage the fees or the time.

Over the next several years I threw myself into work and women, my newest avenue to dull the ache of emotional distress. I found the skills I had learned from Dr. Haynes were extremely valuable and began training opticians for licensure, guest lecturing at colleges of opticianry, and giving seminars for Optician’s Associations in several states. Working seventy or more hours a week, and constantly dating women, left little time for drugs. I became drug free for a time in 1979, but still drank socially – and I was very social. I turned down an opportunity, that included free education, with the College of Optometry at Missouri State to assist in the practical opticianry training of optometrists, preferring the other business aspects of my profession.

By the time I was thirty I had become one of the most sought after opticianry trainers in the eastern half of the U.S., doing seminars as far away as Florida, had developed a reputation as a consultant within the profession and earned a very lucrative salary. But I had also been married and divorced a second time, constantly dealt with depressions of ever-increasing severity and continued a life of excessive use of alcohol and, occasionally, drugs. After finally collapsing, I was diagnosed with a severe heart valve condition that required immediate surgery. I declined the surgery and decided, instead, to accept the fate of a short life. I did, however, manage to stop abusing alcohol and drugs, this time for good.

A year went by without the heart condition worsening. Having, undoubtedly, beat the odds I knew it was time to settle down for good. L., who became my third wife, had been a previous opticianry student. She was exceptional in many ways, and had a peace and serenity about her that belied her tenuous relationship with her father. L. also had the good sense to wait another year before accepting my proposal, just to make sure I stayed clean. I never shared the diagnosis I received before dating her.

In the meantime, I had accepted a position with a holding company that specialized in optical stores. The availability of CPAs, attorneys, and other professionals gave me opportunities to learn many more aspects of the business world. Within a year I became VP of operations and acquisitions, and embarked on my last journey into addiction. This time I became addicted to work and my own abilities. Nothing was too difficult. Any situation simply became an opportunity to learn more, and become more indispensable. I was very adept at virtually all aspects of retail, wholesale and technical optics, as well as the implementation of process management structures within large organizations. I also found my own style of gaining and wielding power – manipulation and deceit.

On the home front, our first child, Ian, was born in 1990. L. had been looking for a church, and finally settled on Liberty Presbyterian in Delaware. She had been raised a Christian and would not consider bringing a child into the world without a church home. Every Sunday she would ask me to go with her, and every time I declined. For many years she attended by herself, but longed for a husband who belonged to her church family.

By 1994 I had became even more severely depressed. I had spent the better part of the previous decade medicated, but still worked relentlessly. Periodic battles with suicidal thoughts began to interfere with my ability to function in business. My health was also suffering, with my doctor cautioning about changing my lifestyle. I knew I had reached a turning point in my life. For the first time, I entered into counseling with the intent of defeating the demons of my life, rather than looking for a band-aid. I put the same energy into this effort as I had into business, and successfully uncovered layer after layer of emotional damage. Unknown to me until later, L., sensing the symptoms were also of a spiritual nature, had every prayer group at Liberty praying for me.

When my second son, Casey, was born in 1995 I had deteriorated to the point of being only functional at work. Once home I became a virtual vegetable. My body was also failing further, as much from the cocktail of heart, liver and depression medication as from the physical ailments themselves. I knew emphatically that I was going to die if I stayed in my present occupation. My doctor described my condition as a body that has had its lifetime limit of abuse and stress. Fear, however, was still a stronger motivator than health. I was afraid of not having skills useful in another less stressful position, not earning as much money, and being totally inadequate in any other environment. In retrospect, the real fear was of not being in control. For years I had described myself as functionally insane, and the prospect of being unable to function was terrifying. I was the only entity in which I had any faith, and I was absolutely addicted to the power I wielded, along with all its trappings.

For months I had experienced what I thought were random ideas of God and God’s relationship to the universe. Despite efforts to push them away, these notions entered my head at the most inappropriate times. I knew, without doubt, that I was slipping into insanity. I wasn’t ready, except there were times that the idea of just letting my mind wander off was attractive. In April 1996 I made a final, and seemingly fatal, decision.

L. went to church that Sunday and, as usual, I stayed home. Upon arriving at church the Music Director, Beckie B., asked L. about me. Beckie had been in one of the prayer groups, but she wouldn’t have known me if we bumped into each other. She then offered to be available anytime, should I need to talk, and told L. that she believed God would be knocking soon and I might need help. What occurred concurrently a few miles away seems implausible, but is true.

At basically the same time, I put on my headphones to listen to some loud rock and roll, a favorite Sunday morning pursuit. It helped to chase the voices from my head. I was listening to a song, by the group Blues Traveler, I’d heard dozens of times before. The words ‘Jesus Christ died for your sins’ were clearly audible in the song. The problem was that none words on that CD were discernable and I knew it. I pulled out the CD jacket and the words I saw were nothing like those I was hearing. Shaken, I turned off the stereo and went out to my woodshop in the garage where I turned on the TV. Yes, I had a TV in the garage – it’s where I went to smoke. I was trembling as I changed from one station to another. I had never before seen a TV preacher on every channel, and they were all giving the same message – Christ died for my sins. I knew I had lost it. I wanted to run, but didn’t know to where. I just stood there motionless. And then a blackness, the likes of which I had never seen, enveloped me. I had always described depression as a dark hole you saw yourself descending into. I knew, without knowing how, this was the deepest depression I had ever experienced and I wouldn’t be coming back. I remember picking up my sharpest tool, a drawknife, and resolutely deciding I wasn’t going into that hole. I was ready to die.

Next: Learning to Thrive.     Or go to INDEX.

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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

Readers since Jan 2009

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