How I Rebuilt Myself
I hadn’t showered in weeks.
I sat on the floor. Or, what remained of the floor. Most of it was buried in old McDonald’s nugget packaging and unfinished homework. My room smelled of mold. Hell, I smelled of mold.
But I noticed none of that.
My eyes were on the screen, as they had been for the last 16 hours. I was playing League of Legends—an online game where teams of animated characters fight to destroy the enemy’s base. My character was a girl. She was cute and played music on a keyboard. Maybe I’d marry someone like her.
I was an addict. Each day, I would wake at noon, skip class and play until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I survived on McNuggets and six-dollar burritos from the joint next door.
I had no future. I was a loser. But I couldn’t stop. It was too much ‘fun’…
That was college. Somehow, I managed to graduate. My test-taking skills saved me. I got a job. Somebody hired me.
That changed nothing.
Life Pulled the Plug
In a different life, maybe nothing would have changed. I would have kept my head in the sand.
But life pulled the plug on me.
I don’t know what the trigger was. Maybe it was my induction into “adulthood”. Maybe it was the loneliness. Maybe it was looking into the eyes of people at work…and seeing nothing.
It was a mid-life crisis. I was 21.
Yea, sure, I was pampered and privileged and my parents paid for my education… but it didn’t feel like that.
The fear seized me. It wasn’t the in-your-face kind of fear you get when you see a snake in your driveway. It was softer, deeper and always there. It was the “trapped in outer space and running out of oxygen” kind of fear.
I was suffocating. There was nobody to talk too. I had no friends. My parents wouldn’t understand.
Anything but that.
I’d been hiding the doubt on a corner shelf for the past two decades and now the shelf was broken and all of it fell down and hit me on the head.
It was a strange terror of not meaning, not doing, not living… Anything was better than that.
So I tried.
I looked at myself. Maybe for the first time. I reached out for help. I started reading. I’d never had role models before. This time, I found them in books. I went to the gym. I stopped eating nuggets (but not burritos). I talked to strangers. Girls, even. I got rejected. It sucked.
But I kept trying.
I had relapses. I would fall back into a mess of self-hate. I binged on onion rings, called in sick to stay home and play card games, and dodged reality with poorly subtitled Korean soap operas.
But then, sure as sugar, the empty fear returned. Oh my god, it’s happening again. And there was nothing worse than that.
So, no matter the suck, I got out and started over.
Each time, I failed. Each time, things got a bit better. I could control my desires. I learned new skills. I found a little confidence.
Something interesting started to happen.
For the first time in my life, girls started to notice. Friends came to ask for advice. I got compliments on my dress, my intellect, my way of life… People started to use escape words: I was now “gifted”, “talented”, “smart” and “sociable”.
It was all a lie. I knew who I was. I was a loser. Still, it was addicting.
The emptiness left. In its place was something else—something more addicting than any video game. I was high on momentum, high on growth and high on meaning.
And so it went. I fell over and got up again. Each time, I stood a little longer. I read more books. I started writing. I taught myself to program. I quit my job. I traveled.
These last two years were the best in my life.
Shit still happens. My girlfriend dumped me this year. I cried. I shaved my head. I got pissed off and threw my phone in a pond.
The itch comes back. Come on, let’s play. Just a little bit. Sometimes, I laugh it away. Other times, it gets me.
But, whatever happens, my old friend fear is there to catch me. He gives me a kick in the ass. And I’m back here going forward, climbing, getting better every day.
Here’s to the next two years being even better.
Photo credit: David Blackwell