The Invisible Cycle of Hades

A guest post by our friend and member Donavan Gerken:

One issue that I’ve always battled is the nuisance of anxiety. It is always there, pushing my thoughts to the negative, and imbedding me with fear. Alcohol was my only resolve, yet alcohol exasperated the anxiety ten-fold, day in and day out, thus the invisible cycle of hades.

I take my two youngest children to daycare each day (3 years old and 5 years old). Usually, the half-hour commute is spent discussing Zelda with my 5-year old, Zander. Today, both were unusually quiet, until Zander blurted out, “I had a dream you got arrested, daddy.”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, but probably due to past experiences, being arrested is a very real fear of mine. I’m a law-abiding citizen, proud father, and (now) your stereotypical “dad” that pop culture playfully pokes fun at. However, it really did happen to me a few times for drinking, it was horrible, and served as deterrent to obey the law (eventually). The fear remains, though. What if I have some warrant that I don’t know about? What if? What if? What if? The obsession continues, and on, and on, and on.

Pre-stoic Donavan would have handled this in one way, and one way only. For starters, I would be too drunk to take my kids daycare, leaving the responsibility to my wife. I would start drinking beer to squash the anxiety and depression and irrational thoughts in the midafternoon. I would remain “functional” and “coherent” until the kids were in bed, and my wife went to bed alone upstairs.

I’d then start drinking heavier, reflect on the past, relive moments where I should have done this or done that, stood up for myself, punched so and so in the face, took the time to help that person that needed it. Maybe immolating in my mind the life of Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting while watching the movie for the 1,000th time, polishing off my 16th beer and placing the next one in the freezer to get it just right. Possibly crying, listening to songs that provoked suppressed feelings, attempting to mix them with some obscure instrumental on the turntables, envisioning it being recognized by the millions and millions of people listening to it that my pain is real. I’m trying to translate it to you in a universal language we all understand but choose to ignore. I’m just misunderstood, please pay attention!

…And then I’d wake up on the couch, head to the porch, take a piss and smoke a cigarette, and repeat. Wasting away a life depended on by many but not grasped by the very person in control of it, and too drunk and blind to recognize my reality. I’d then figure out if I was going to order Indian food that conveniently delivered beer, or directly from the liquor store. I couldn’t drive, both physically and mentally, so bring the siren tit to me, loyal servant. But then my address was labeled as “undeliverable” by both. Apparently, they felt I was abusing their system of enabling, ironically the very foundation of one of the business concepts, yet my addictive needs were spent. My only solution was to drive to get my solution, which was unrealistic with my mindset.

A friend of mine posted a random quote from The Meditations on Instagram and related it to sobriety. He willingly gave up alcohol for a few months and said that Marcus helped him do so. I remembered the name and book from college and couldn’t sleep, so googled it. I then bought it. And then slowly translated it into my daily life. It by far wasn’t a perfect and seamless transition, but slowly it all came together. The years of stigma of sobriety quickly washed away, I developed my path, and kept my life. I became an actual parent, a husband, a brother, a son, a contributor to the good around me. I became ME!

So today, I thankfully managed to get both kids to daycare and took five minutes in the car before leaving the school to meditate. Meditation could have its own write-up with practices and disciplines, but I define it personally, as to what works for me. I opened my iPhone note section, pulled up the folder of my saved quotes about “control”, and read:

“What good do I get then?’ What greater good do you look for than this? You were shameless and shall be self-respecting, you were undisciplined and shall be disciplined, untrustworthy and you shall be trusted, dissolute and you shall be self-controlled. If you look for greater things than these, go on doing as you do now: not even a god can save you.” – Epictetus

I took deep breaths, focused, and slowly relaxed. What is in my control at this moment? What is my purpose? Yes, I can’t control the outside forces pushing these negative thoughts, but I can control how I react to them. And what do I have to fear? Am I going to let those irrational fears impede me and my life? No! It is like taking fear on a global level, dissecting it, and taking my slice of responsibility: that slice is mine, I am accountable for it, and the rest can go to all of you – I’m not going to worry about it. None of the latter is in my control – only my slice.

It is a daily struggle, but one I embrace, accept and grow from daily. Stoicism saved my life.

2 thoughts on “The Invisible Cycle of Hades

    1. Thinking about a distressing event that ‘might’ occur in the future provokes the anxiety. However, the feeling/experience of anxiety also provokes the NAT (Negative Automatic Thinking). The thinking and the emoting inform one another. Sometimes it may seem like one is doing more of the provoking than the other. But in reality, it is more like a mobius strip, difficult to sort out which is top and which is bottom. Nonetheless, as a practical matter, it is usually easier and more effective to directly challenge the distorted thinking, interrupt it, unroot it, and replace it with thinking that is “cooler,” more helpful, rational and reality-driven.

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