On Life Getting Longer
It's my birthday, and it seems as I get older, life gets longer
I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside.
I. Today’s My Birthday 🎂 🥳
Had you asked me on my 27th birthday last year, a night ironically rock-star themed and filled to the brim with drugs, alcohol, and debauchery, I would have told you there was no way that the upcoming trip around the sun could be any crazier than my 26th.
I had recently raised $3M for my startup, was dating the woman of my dreams whom I was sure I would marry, had just gotten off a month of yachting in Miami (🙄), and was deeply interwoven in a community of artists and entrepreneurs I loved, soaking up every ounce of Brooklyn culture with all its eye-opening twists and turns. I felt like I was at the center of it, “living my best life.”
Today I turn twenty eight. Once again, convinced that this upcoming orbit could not possibly be crazier than the last.
In June the woman I knew I would marry wasn’t so sure, and shattered my heart into a million little pieces. I felt a depth of emotional pain I didn’t previously know was possible, followed by a substance abuse disorder and hypomanic episode that blew open everything I thought I understood about my own mind.
I experienced weeks of non-stop flow states and a series of mystical experiences my past self would roll his eyes at and for which my present self can only shrug and say “yeah homie, that’s literally what happened,” knowing full well you probably won’t believe me.
Synchronicities, serendipities, psychoses, visions, rituals, ceremonies, sobriety.
Cocaine, ketamine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar, sex, processed foods – as each addiction burned off me like driftwood, the next revealed itself in a seemingly never ending buffet of options to distract, avoid, and bypass pain triggered by my heartbreak, and yet decades old in origin.
We must all reckon eventually.
In sobriety the curtains rose and behind them all of my darkness, all of your darkness, all of our darkness, all the darkness laid bare staring back at me. An addicted self, an addicted society, a suffering populace, a suffering earth.
I sat with mother and we cried together. For months my eyes burned and watered at the sight of my own truths, having been buried for so long beneath delusion.
Ten+ years of smoking, drinking, drugging, fucking, lying, earning, achieving, succceeding.
Thank you ketamine for keeping me safe from that which I wasn’t ready to feel. Thank you alcohol for keeping me distracted from that which I wasn’t ready to see. Thank you mindless sex for helping me bypass the memories I wasn’t ready to recall. Thank you lying for protecting me from the truths I wasn’t ready to tell. Thank you delusions for letting me sleep.
I am ready now. I’m 28 and ready.
II. Fear and Loathing
A year ago I would have told you I was living life to the fullest.
Everyday I was striving toward a better, more pleasurable existence. More friends, more money, more achievements, better ideas, deeper skills, collecting trophies of various shapes and sizes so that I could sit on the edge of my bed at night and bask in them, forgetting for a moment that I too will die and none of these artifacts will matter.
Now I ponder death daily.
A year later, I see more clearly now: I’m not here to learn how to live, but rather, to learn how to die.
Beyond the fear of feeling my past, behind the fear of abandonment from my youth, through the fear of being deeply and desperately alone and unloved, I see only the fear of ceasing to exist.
All the others are dependent on this one. If I don't exist, there’s nothing to be alone. If I don’t exist, there’s nothing to be abandoned. If I don’t exist, there’s nothing to feel.
What happens when I stop existing?
All of us must die. Some of us are lucky enough to die and keep living. As Hobbes famously said, “Fear of things invisible is the natural seed of that which every one in himself calleth religion.”
III. Life is Long
“They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.”
A few years ago I read “On The Shortness of Life” by Lucias Seneca. I interpreted the book as a reminder to spend every previous minute “living my best life,” in the very yolo-sense of the word, having meaningful experiences, doing important work, making lots of friends, and so forth.
I now see that reading as a fundamental misinterpretation of Seneca. What he most importantly tells us is that “Life is long if you know how to use it… But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”
In other words, what one does with life is irrelevant. What’s of primary concern is how one experiences life. Last year I would have told you I was experiencing my best life, but that’s only because that’s what I had deluded myself into believing. I reflect and see a white-nosed little boy playing out his traumas and suffering from a cyclical and shame-ridden existence.
Suddenly, life is quite long.