Gambinga: Ghost in the Darkness - Letter to My Younger Self

This story has a trigger warning

In this metaphorical account of addiction and post-addiction, Gambinga describes the internal tensions and conflicts that shape recovery, identity and relationships. Trigger Warning: References to suicide and contains strong language

Profiles of faces

hey, kid.

i could ask how you and yours are doing. i won’t. no easy way to say this: it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets worse. i think you can see that. your circle of support is all but nonexistent because those that love you have pulled back for fear of being pulled down, and you stand increasingly alone. you know you need to do something, and you have some idea of what you need to do, and why, but you’ve been this way so long you don’t know how else to be.

good news is that you’ll soon quit drinking. that’s also the bad news. quitting will be, in many real ways, the worst thing you’ll ever do. however bad you think it is for you now, the cause of your problems is also your biggest protector. you’ll be surprised by the length and depth of the gaps in your memory. whole years barely foggy mirages where faces, places and voices should be. just hazy whispers of second hand emotions where passion and pain should be.

a strange mercy.

right now, it’s those who love you that bear the brunt of the pain. it’s them that have to suffer your lies, gaslighting and promises they know you have neither the intention or motivation to keep.

quitting comes with the strange new reality of not being able to really remember the pain, yet hearing and seeing it everywhere in those who were there with you. you see the doubt in their eyes every time you say you’ve quit. you hear it in their voices when they make plans with you.

knowing that you were the toxic one in relationships spurs you to an obsession with redemption that, to most, looks like something between relentless points counting and endless attention seeking because you take every opportunity to show and tell just how glorious this new you is.

moving on with those you love is an exercise in being in different times trying to walk the same journey together. you’re always straddling yesterday and tomorrow, never today. you want to shake the world hard so it sees who you are, but you know that the only way you can prove that is by living it today, tomorrow and the day after, and the day after, and the day after…

your zeal to move on will feel like you are trying to force everyone to forget. like you’re minimizing their pain. you are. because you just want to stop seeing them see you as the you you left behind. it’s also because you’re trying to convince yourself you really did leave that you behind. they remember that you. you still wear the same face. your words still have the same voice. so your loved linger in the past because that’s the only frame of reference they have. out of necessity, for you, life is in the future. you want to rush to get there.

if i had to give you just one piece of advice, it’s that there’s no mathematics in human emotion. you can’t subtract what’s done by adding something new. don’t make the mistake of thinking that joy erases pain, or that laughter can drown tears. chasing redemption will trap you in the future, those you love in the past, and doom everyone to miss the little victories to be found in the now.

redemption, when it comes, and it will come, will not be in grand plans, acts or declarations. it will not be in great acts of contrition and penance or shedding off of everything you are to become a whole new being.

it will not be in the future, or in the past, or some mythical other time and place.

it’ll be in the small moments with the ones you love, in getting lost in the mundane, in the small steps and moments: be present.

you remember the cherokee parable of two wolves within us; the good and the bad? we become the wolf we feed. the other withers, dies. remember?

let me introduce you to ours as i see them, now, and see if you recognize them.

ghost is drawn to the shadows in dark places. for him, the dark brings pain. pain, for him, is relief. it’s a sign he can feel. so he becomes the shadows; the gap between the light he feels from the world in which he finds himself and the darkness that permeates the world he finds in

himself. there, he searches for the hurt of strangers, the discomfort of acquaintances, and the pain of loved ones. finds them, binds them, makes them his own.

there, in the dark, he finds the one very specific form of pain in which he finds home: shame. it’s his armor, his affirmation, his blood. familiar with him?

kaimani is the charming dreamer, the mystic, the life of the party. he doesn’t sleep, there aren’t enough hours in the day to be all the things he wants to be, do and see. his confidence borders arrogance, and his self-belief is indistinguishable from delusion.

he’s the wind. i only know him from his aftermath. i recognize the broken promises, the abandoned projects, the lost jobs, the broken hearts…the broken. you recognize him?

gambinga is the inbetween. a being caught in an endless cycle of cleaning up after kaimani and repairing relationships bruised by ghost’s seeming coldness; making up for kaimani’s fuckery, and explaining away ghost’s absences. he exists in the aftermath, in the slipstream and in the eye of the storm.

i know you see your self as him. i get it. if you are him then the other two aren’t you. they are intrusions that need to be starved.

thing is, if you see parts of yourself as the enemy you inevitably go to war with yourself. the first casualty of that war is trust. you’re never sure which you is you, what acts are yours, which are the wolves’, never sure which pain to own because you’re never sure which hurt was your doing.

moments of pure ecstasy are the worst. because you don’t know which pain is yours and which is not, you lose the ability to recognize happiness too. you become a confused observer. always watching, always studying, always questioning: never experiencing. never being. never living the moment.

in the end you become a being of the in-between because it’s the safest place to be. you’ll never know elation, but it’s a small price to pay to avoid the crippling agony of the valleys that come with the depressive episodes. you don’t trust yourself to be able to decipher which is which, so you paralyse yourself.

instead of getting lost in the ecstasy found in getting lost in the company of loved ones you find yourself questioning whether it’s your heart or the chemical imbalance in your brain lying to you. you miss the peace found in

losing yourself in doing your favorite things because you won’t let yourself.

how do you stand in your own feet if you don’t trust yourself to even know which feet you’re standing in?

how can you expect others to trust you if you can’t, and don’t, trust yourself?

you look around and can’t see any wars going on behind the eyes of others, so you assume there are none. you assume you are alone. you feel apart. different. lacking. or burdened with something others don’t carry.

you’re not there yet, i don’t think, so i’ll speak for myself, from a little while back, in my time, to come, in yours. somewhere along the way being apart grows from a trait into an identity. you come to see yourself by who and what you’re not. it becomes more than who you are. it becomes what you do. ‘different’ becomes your mission, your purpose.

it comes to feel like the only thing you have, are. you lean into it because it’s the one thing you feel you can control. you find yourself gravitating towards the edges for no other reason than ‘just because’. in the end, even the things that bring you joy cease to the moment you decide they’re no longer ‘different’ enough. you create your own prison.

we need to see ourselves in those we surround ourselves with. we need to hear ourselves in them. we need to look at them looking at us, and see them see some of themselves in us. i didn’t.

in the end that need for ‘different’ became an instinct towards detachment. i simply forgot how to connect. i din’t hate myself, or my life. i just became kind of indifferent to it, to myself. i didn’t actively want to die. i

just sort of, kinda, didn’t mind if i did. just kind of sort of expected to die.

i was just exhausted. tired of the numbness, and of the vastness of the empty. and of working so hard to make sure that the world would always marvel at ‘he’s sooo laid back’, ‘this guy don’t give a fuck!’, or ‘zen’. with time, hope took over from expectation. what we expect we end up hoping for. someone said that mine was the longest suicide attempt they’d ever seen.

you still think suicide is an event. no, it’s a process, a journey. the most visceral last step we all tend to call suicide is just the last step, the result. our journey, strange to say, is one of expectation to hope.

i don’t remember when it started, or how. you remember looking at your daughter as the midwife handed her to you and the only thought on your mind being that you half-expected and half-hoped to not be there long enough for her to remember you. wasn’t the first time you found yourself reacting to moments that should have been ecstacy that way. or the last.

hope acquires shades of a kind of bewilderment that you’re still there for these moments. it already has for you. it’s even acquired the jagged edges of frustration too, hasn’t it? that frustration has already morphed into indifference. indifference to living will soon become indifference to life.

by the time hope came, dying felt like a kindness to myself, those i loved, and, more importantly, those that loved me. you have experienced fleeting sharp moments of this. they will become longer, sharper, and deeper.

i’m not going to go into the gory details, but i think it’s important that you know this if your future stands any chance of not following my past lock-step.

i didn’t want anyone hurt by my death. so jumping in front of a car, train or such was out. i didn’t want some poor driver to have to deal with flashbacks to my last moments. jumping off a tall building was out. didn’t want some poor old lady walking her dog in the morning finding my mangled body splattered on the sidewalk.

i wanted to just disappear. that way those i left behind would deal with anger, not sadness. there’s some comfort in anger. it’s motivating, invigorating, even, and, most times, outward facing. sadness is paralyzing, and always inward facing. i’ll take anger over sadness any day. i wasn’t going to leave a note. i’d found a few disused mines: sleeping tablets. booze. one of those mines.

we are wired for connection. it is a need as visceral as our need for air to need to see ourselves in those we surround ourselves with. to want to hear ourselves in their voices. to look in their eyes, and see them see some of themselves in us. we want to feel that we’re a part of something bigger than us, that we add to the whole.

if i had to say the one thing that tipped me from hoping to die to, on that new year’s eve 2015, deciding to do something about it it was that i came to believe that i had forgotten how to connect. and that i would never remember how to.

by then ghost was, by far, the best fed of the three wolves. gambinga was all but starved. even kaimani had grown tired of coming out once in a while, as he’d always done, in very short sharp bursts, to make a mess.

there’s an odd space between when one finds that who and what they thought they were was either wrong or is no longer fit for purpose. when the gap between yesterday and tomorrow suddenly seems so vast a chasm navigation feels all but impossible.

you have been here before.

here we are again.


we have not yet mastered growing in degrees. we have only ever grown in the leaps forced by crisis. growing from crisis is like strangling the you you’re standing in because that’s the only way you can survive. that’s the only hope you have of birthing a new you. you have to be your own father and executioner, your own mother and undertaker.

if i’m trying to do anything with all this it’s to find meaning in it all. it all has got to mean something. meaning, in my experience thus far, can only ever be found in yesterday’s pain not in tomorrow’s joy.

it all has to have been for something. i can find purpose from that. there can’t be tomorrow without yesterday. there can’t be purpose without meaning. it’s what we’ve been that informs who we will be. it’s who we were that raises what we’ll become.

even though in my darker days, i still convince myself that my biggest mistake was to not die, i have have parlayed a workable peace among the wolves.

more and more, despite the ease with which i lean towards the opposite, I am learning to gravitate towards the light, and, when the dark persists, be the light.

in that, meaning rises, and a new, yet familiar, purpose takes shape in the form of this one realization:

you are not alone.

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