Sunday, April 28, 2013

Battling the Bottle

"All that night by lamplight we sing and yell songs which is okay but in the morning the bottle is gone and I wake up with the 'final horros' again, precisely the way I woke up in the Frisco skidrow room before escaping doown here, it's all caught up with me again, I can hear myself again whining, 'Why does God torture me?' - but anyone who's never had delirium tremens even in their early stages may not understand that it's not so much a physical pain but a mental anguish indescribable to those ignorant people who don't drink and accuse drinkers of irresponsiblity - the mental anguish is so intense that you feel you have betrayed your very birth, the efforts nay the birth pangs of your mother when she bore you and delivered you to the world, you've betrayed every effort your father ever made to feed and and raise you and make you strong and my God even educate you for 'life,' you feel a guilt so deep you identify yourself with the devil and God seems far away abandoning you t your sick silliness - You feel sick in the greatest sense of the word, breathing without believing in it, sicksicksick, your soul groans, you look at your helpless hands as tho they were on fire and you cant move to help, you look at the world with dead eyes, there's  on your face an expression of incaluable pining like a constipated angel on a cloud. . .

I'm SICK" I yell emphatically to the trees, to the woods around, to the hills above, looking around desperately, nobody cares -"

Jack Kerouac,
Big Sur

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Life and Loss with Michigan Basketball: Volume VI

Part VI: Uncharted Waters

Part I: Baptism in Dirty Water
Part II: The Fall from Innocence
Part III: Yellow Badge of Courage
Part IV (In Progress)
Part V: The Way it Was

"At some point you are not what you were, and then you are nothing. It's at this point people start putting themselves together, once you have had that year where you do too much of something - drink, play video games, feel sorry for yourself, brick threes, fumble - feel terrible after, and then do too much of that something again." - Brian Cook, via Mgoblog

It had been years since I had hugged my little brother. That night, though, ended with my brother and I instinctively embracing each other. It felt like that's exactly what I was meant to do that night, exactly where I was meant to be that night - a feeling I haven't felt in a long time.

Moments earlier Trey Burke crossed half court, the seconds seemingly ticking down on Michigan's best season in two decades and a glorious tournament run up to that night, as Kansas had spent the first thirty-eight minutes of the game picking apart Michigan's flaws in what appeared to be an onslaught towards an easy Jayhawk victory. Mitch McGary collided with a Kansas defender and tumbled to the hardwood. Canadian import Nik Stauskas could only watch from his home behind the three point line in the corner. Columbus, Ohio's own - another inconceivable story line in and of itself - Burke boldly stepped up from an improbable distance and launched a thirty footer. The orange ball seemed to hang in the basketball heavens for an excruciatingly anxious moment, Michigan's Final Four hopes and my heart hanging in the balance. The crowd fell into a ghastly silence. Team captain and symbolic victory cigar Josh Bartlesein anticipatorily jumped up from the Michigan bench as the ball hit its crescent, apparently having more confidence in Burke's thirty-footer than I, as my heart sunk gut-wrenchingly deep into my stomach. Indeed, that thirty foot prayer seemed to be sent from the heavens directly to me. The sports gods knew I needed this one bad, probably more than I had ever needed a basketball to drop through the net before.

When it did finally sink, it was hard not to think, at that moment, that Michigan's improbable comeback was explicitly tied to the comeback I had embarked on earlier that day. That the cosmos had somehow mysteriously aligned the events of that day with me in mind.

Five minutes of overtime later, Michigan was headed to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1993. Uncharted waters. Earlier that day, I walked into St. Mary's hospital with my dad and signed up for an intensive outpatient rehab program for alcohol abuse. The red flags had been there throughout the years, usually with me unwilling to notice them. Things had gotten pretty bad this year, though, and after a particularly bad bender the week before (of course it was losing the B1G title to Indiana in the closing seconds as I watched in the seats of Crisler that triggered this bender), I knew it was finally time to ask for some help. You just know when it's time to finally be honest with yourself. Uncharted waters indeed.

I went for a long drive after I left my brother's house that night. At one point I screamed in ecstasy alone in my truck; I felt happy for the first time in a long time, as if things had finally turned a corner for me. The events of the day were a lot to grasp between the hospital meeting and the miraculous Michigan comeback culminating in Trey Burke's all-out takeover of a game, solidification of his status as the National Player of the Year in college basketball. I blasted the country music and just let it all sink in.

It was all so improbable, from Michigan's win to my brother and I embracing. But I couldn't help but feel like it was all meant to be that way. As always, sports and life had converged in a moment all-too real to be coincidental. I watched the next three games with my brother at his house as well, and those were probably three of the best nights I've had in years. My brother and I had grown apart over the years just a bit - a lot of that probably due to my drinking and his not - so it felt like a new chapter for all of us concerned: my brother and I on a new chapter of our relationship, Michigan basketball on a new chapter as they annihilated the Florida Gators en route to the Final Four for the first time in two decades and then marched onwards to the National Championship game, me in the midst of beginning my own new chapter in the early days of my outpatient program.

Sometimes a game is more than a game.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life and Loss with Michigan Basketball: Volume V

The Way it Was

Part I: "He Takes a Timeout. They Don't Have Any Timeouts!"
Part II: The Fall From Innocence
Part III: A Badge of Honor

"Yet another of those little sparks of optimism lit me up and led me to believe once again that if things could change for the team then they could change for me." - Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

Things had started to turn sour for me that winter of 2011. College was somehow over in an instant and my friends were a long way away. The beautiful summer in the Petoskey woods with the girlfriend was over and she was a long way away, too. My Indian Summer was over, without warning. I was trying hard to navigate the post-grad world I was suddenly thrust upon - desperately trying to find a feeling of home in my new Chicago residence, a long way away from anything I had ever cared about.

I made frequent trips back to Ann Arbor that year, seeking the comfort of home I was unable to find in my new home, The Windy City. There are a lot of memories of late-night bus and train rides - usually including a pepsi bottle with a splash of whiskey - and in those memories my anxiety always seemed to dissipate the closer I got to my real home, Ann Arbor.

There's a walk I remember vividly from that time. I had taken a bus from Chicago, my then home, to Ann Arbor. I was on the trek once again to visit the girlfriend, who I was starting to become unhealthily and (ultimately) disastrously dependent on - though I didn't recognize that until years later - as my own depression was starting to rear its ugly head during those cold months. As the college sweetheart hit the books that Friday afternoon I went for a long walk through the streets of my former home.

During college, I often went for walks through Ann Arbor to clear my head, to get away from the roommates, to relax from studies, to walk off a hangover, to find some calm, sometimes just to walk. I guess as I departed my girlfriend's house that day, I went on that walk searching for that feeling of home Ann Arbor had provided me those four years of college, searching for a peace of mind I hadn't been able to find since moving to Chicago. The search for that home feeling failed, however, and the realization that Ann Arbor was no longer my home - no matter how badly I hated that fact - sunk in deep.  Down South University - the dividing line between million-dollar university buildings and dilapidated college houses; down South Forest street - where beer cans and patches of snow littered collegiate front lawns; through the Oxford neighborhood, where impeccably manicured sorority houses loomed; I felt homesick for Ann Arbor.  I desperately missed my girlfriend, my college house, my family, my college friends. Many times I had found reassurance walking those streets in my time in college, yet this one wasn't working. Instead, it only seemed to confound my confusion: how had things changed so fast?

I had lost my cousin in a snowmobiling accident a couple weeks prior that winter of 2011, a thought that had weighed heavy - like a cumulus snow cloud above me- on my mind over the past weeks. During that walk through Ann Arbor, as the wheels of that monstrous snow storm began to churn, I pondered the burdens weighing heavy on my mind. The funeral I had attended that short time ago left me lamenting the brevity of life, and life's precarious clock lingered with me like a sour aftertaste. As young deaths are wont to do, it left me questioning a lot of things: whether I had made a wrong turn somewhere down the road, particularly in regards to the career I had recently embarked on.

A phone call from a former college roommate interrupted that walk, and I headed towards the old college house in pursuit of a drink or two. This phenomenon was becoming a problem in its own right as I never cleanly transitioned from the hard-drinking college lifestyle to the adult world I was suddenly thrust upon. I once again abandoned the flurry of unresolved turmoil going on in my soul in hopes of drowning it all in a glass of bourbon.

Things would get much worse, and then worse again, before it got any better. But I have a particularly happy memory of that weekend. The mind is a funny thing, with an uncanny ability to suppress the negative memories and retain only the positive ones. I remember all those thoughts I had during that walk through Ann Arbor that weekend, but the defining memory in my mind is a basketball game.

The day after that walk, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass - the faces of the new direction of Michigan Basketball - led my Michigan Wolverines out of the tunnel and into the first NCAA Tournament game for Michigan in over a decade. I watched that game at Charlies, my old college bar, surrounded by my girlfriend and my old college friends. Novak and Douglass rained threes on the Tennessee Volunteers that day in a downright massacre of a game.

 Soon I would be back on a bus bound west for Chicago. But for those brief couple of hours and into that night, everything was back to the way it was.