A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how my wife and I made a pact to decrease our alcohol consumption. Because we both have pretty extensive family history when it comes to alcoholism, we felt it was time to take a good look at our tendencies and determine whether or not we have a problem. As I mentioned then, we work in the craft beer/cider industry, which makes this pact more difficult than if we had “normal” jobs. Nevertheless, we did pretty good. Last week, that is.
Our pact was to only drink three times during the week, and have a maximum of two drinks each of those times. Then we could drink one weekend day/night, and have a maximum of four adult beverages. We totally rocked the three times a week X two drinks promise during that first week. We also did pretty well on the weekend, especially considering we had friends from out of town who came to visit. Each of us ordered three beers at The Community Pint on Saturday night, and we managed to make them last all night. Unfortunately, we didn’t stick to our one weekend day/night last weekend. We ended up having a few beers on Sunday as well, and that had everything to do with our business. We were meeting with a potential new client (a brewery), so we had three beers on Sunday with the owners and some other friends who also happen to own a brewery. I felt some guilt about breaking the pact the first week by having drinks on Saturday and Sunday, but we drank in moderation at least. (This past weekend was Oktoberfest AND the regional craft beer festival, so basically, we totally failed at meeting the pact.)
We also did something new that day as well! Since we were headed up to Republic to meet with brewery owners, we decided we’d also get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Republic, Washington is beautiful, particularly in the fall. We drove up a little too early in the season to see the larches turning colors, but northeast Washington still showed off its beauty.
Some of our very dear friends live in Chewelah, Washington, which is on the way up to Republic. They are avid outdoorsmen–always skiing, hiking, cycling, and so on. Since we don’t know the area very well, we asked them to map out a hike for us. We stipulated that the hike needed to be easy, as we would have our old dog with us, who is almost twelve years old.
Jake and Patrick’s “easy” is never my easy. Despite the fact that I told them my dog cannot handle uphills and downhills, guess what we encountered at every turn?
Lucky for my out-of-shape ass and my elderly pooch, we weren’t able to do the entire hike. The winter of 2016-2017 was an incredible one for snowfall. We were blanketed over and over and over by giant snowstorms throughout the season. In fact, our school was canceled more times in one school year than in all of my other years combined, with the exception of the Windstorm of 2015. So when we came upon a washout on the trail, we shouldn’t have been surprised.
I was surprised by the immensity of it, though. Most of the trail washouts I’ve seen have been minor, and easily traversed around. Not this one. The detour around the washout was precarious at best. It required us to climb around a tree onto soft, malleable sledge that had slid down the hill. The standalone tree seemed barely able to hold onto its spot, with the gravity of a hillside pressed up against it and no solid ground underneath.
My pictures could not capture the true size of the washout. This was partially because I couldn’t get close enough to take a photo of how far down the side of the mountain the trail had fallen. Every time I got close, the fine silt beneath my feet disintegrated. After we had determined that there was no way to safely go around the washout, particularly for the two dogs, we decided to turn around. I stayed behind to try to take some good photos.
I carefully positioned myself above the slide and leaned over to try to include the depth of the slide in the frame. It was then that the ground underneath began to give way, and the edge that I stood upon started to crumble. I stepped back, but had nothing to hold onto, and I lost my balance. I regained it quickly, but I was shaken. Adrenaline pumped through my veins, and my ears felt clouded with terror. I realized I could no longer hear my wife and friends chatting merrily as they walked along the trail. I quickly turned around and headed towards them. My knees shook as I plodded along. It seemed as if they were much further away than they should have been, so I began to run. I worried about tripping on a root or stone on the trail, but the anxiety of being left behind outweighed my fear of falling. When I finally came upon them, it was as if I had been there all along. No one had really noticed my absence, which, to me, had felt like an eternity. Didn’t they notice I was gone? Why weren’t they worried?
The answer to that is simple: because they trusted I was okay.
Last spring, when we were being continually pelted with more snow and it seemed the winter would never end, I was daydreaming about being gone. On a sunny, cold Sunday morning I drove to our neighborhood grocery store to pick up some orange juice to complement the tasty brunch my wife was making. I felt pretty good that morning–lighter than normal.
But in the car on my pleasant drive to the store, I envisioned driving my car into a moving train, or off of a cliff, or veering straight into an oncoming semi-truck on the interstate. The beauty of death in an instant seemed enticing. I took a detour onto Cliff Drive, named so because the road is placed on the edge of a cliff with a brilliant view of the city, and a stark dropoff that causes vertigo if you look over the side. I drove slowly over the bridge. I stopped at the edge. I cried.
I knew it was time to tell my wife that I was suicidal in a way that was truly terrifying. I wasn’t suicidal in just the dark moments, like after a long day or after a marital argument or after a failure to complete something important to me, but also in the light of day when everything seemed okay. When I seemed okay.
Mental illness means that day after day, mile after mile can be okay, and then suddenly, without warning, I am gone. Slipping down a hill with nothing to brace against except my very own will, precarious as it is.
I’m okay right now. I’m holding on. But I can feel the weight starting to pile up behind me, pushing me, urging me to fall.
Don’t let me fall.