Projection vs Reality

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” -Bruce Lee

Admitting mistakes, admitting we’re at fault, admitting anything negative about ourselves is one of the toughest things we can ever do. When we admit mistakes, our walls come down; we’re vulnerable. It’s human nature to not be vulnerable, so naturally admitting mistakes doesn’t come with instinct. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins (yes, I finally watched Se7en, fan-fucking-tastic), and pride can lead to an over-inflated ego. Having a large ego while not having the traits of modesty, humility can be damaging over a longer period of time. And it’s really the perfect analogy for poker: you’re at a table with several others, trying to outsmart each other for the money on the table, and losing money in this setting is very up close and personal. Your ego will get fucking battered and bruised over and over and over (and over and over and over) until you think life is a comedy and you’re the joke everyone is laughing at. Those who remain humble can survive the proverbial abyss that is negative variance, with poker and with life much the same.

Well, here I am. I’m here to admit that I’ve made many mistakes. I’m here to admit that I’ve kept a lot bottled up inside even though I have extremely amazing close friends around me. I’ve walked the metaphorical tightrope for a while now. I’ve kept a lot out of this blog because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I wasn’t nearly as strong as I wanted to be, the same reason I never disclosed my worst mistakes and the sometimes crippling and overwhelming feeling of not moving forward, but doing just enough to keep me from moving backward, a sort of neutrality within myself. I originally began this blog as a way to give perspective to what life is like for someone going through such a huge surgery and the life changing experience of a diagnosis of IBD, along with living day-to-day life with a j-pouch. But now, it’s turning into so much more than that.

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Me obv
Most of the time, it’s necessary for us to view our lives and our actions from a different or new perspective, and I’ve been given the opportunity to do just that. It’s eye-opening; I’ve felt shame, guilt, embarrassment, weakness, fright, depression, nervousness, unsure so many times in the last 3 years, and even more so in the last couple weeks. It isn’t easy, but it’s a necessary step in personal growth, which is at the forefront of my mind.

I’ve always been unselfish to a fault. I give a lot of myself to personal relationships, whether with a partner or just friends, that I oftentimes don’t leave myself enough time for, well, myself. Being unselfish is a fucking amazing trait to have, but surrounding yourself with people who will appreciate all that you offer is the ONLY way it can be a positive trait.

While I’ve been unselfish, I’ve also been very selfish by keeping so many negatives inside myself. It’s unfair to me, and it’s unfair to those closest to me. And it’s caused me to push people away. And I just never sat back and realized it. I’ve always been adamant that there are so many others who have it worse than I do (which is true), and that I should be grateful for everything I currently have (which is true). But at the same time, I neglected to stay in touch with what was truly happening to my mental state.

I’ve always been aware of what was happening to me physically. All through high school sports, then recreational sports, I’ve pushed through nearly every single injury, every single sore muscle, every urge to quit in order to put my body on the line and perform well for my teammates and for myself. I’ve had too many random injuries to recall, but they’ve always healed, even though I’ve pushed through them without slowing down to heal. Battle scars, if you will. So naturally, I applied this to my mental state. I never thought about it until now, but I’ve just kept on pushing through the mental pain and anguish instinctively, not giving it a second thought, when I should have just let it all out, lean on those closest to me to help me get through the dark times. But I didn’t. I didn’t want to look weak. I wanted to get through the surgeries, the recovery period, get my life back to normal, and inspire others to do the same. It wasn’t ever easy, but I never wanted to let on that I was ever beat up, tired, drained. And that’s selfish. Because I’ve found out there are people that do give a shit what happens to me, and having that is fucking incredible and something I should never take for granted.

Going through several bouts of depression over the last 40 months has really taken its toll on me. I can recall the first couple of nights after my initial surgery, how depressed I was that I had to lose my colon, that there wasn’t something else I could do. It felt like failure, that I was giving up, even though deep down, I knew it was necessary. I felt like a burden to the nursing staff because I didn’t know how to deal with the ostomy bag. I felt like a burden to my parents, who would drive an hour to New Orleans just to spend some time with me, even if I’d be sleeping half the time. I felt alone even when I wasn’t alone and didn’t need to feel alone.

After being released from the hospital that first time, there were several more bouts of depression scattered from October 2013 until very recently. So many that it’s honestly all a blur. Maybe it never left me, and it just took on varying degrees of severity. The second surgery really took its toll on me. I had 3 separate hospital stays spread out over a 3 week period due to the infection. I just wanted to be home recovering in my own bed, watching my own TV, eating normal food. I just wanted to rewind 2 years to when I had a healthy gut and didn’t have to feel so self-conscious about having an ostomy bag on my side.

I remember wearing a jacket or hoodie almost everywhere just to hide the shape of the ostomy bag under my shirt. I dreaded the fact that summer was coming. I originally would have been able to have my 3rd surgery before summer of 2014, but the infection pushed those plans back nearly 3 months. And we all know that wearing a jacket in south Louisiana past April is pretty rare. So rare that I’d have to just suck it up and start being less self-conscious.

And I did. I started to not care if anyone noticed it because if they did, my plan was to educate them on IBD, helping to spread awareness of this terrible disease. I wish it didn’t take me 5-6 months to get to that point in my life, but I’m human. And I realize it would have been difficult for most anyone.

There were several times near the end of 2014 and all through 2015 where I wanted to go back to the ostomy bag. My recovery period was much longer than what we were expecting. I was a young, relatively healthy individual, so I really thought my body would adjust. My surgeon thought the same. I remember him telling me some people are fine in about 3 weeks, but sometimes, it can take up to 2 years. I didn’t pay much attention to the second part of that statement. I remember thinking to myself, “Great! This will be a piece of cake (something I desperately wanted to eat)!” Boy, was I wrong. It took nearly 16 months for me to start feeling “normal”, and it was really by happenstance. A drug that was prescribed to me for migraines ended up having a positive effect on my gut, and is sometimes used for the exact same thing I was going through (and similar to what my team of doctors at Ochsner were going to put me on just 2-3 weeks later). It felt like a fucking miracle drug, and it’s something I still take nightly to help with everything. The dosage I’m currently taking is also a low to moderate dosage for individuals suffering from various depressions. Again, a miracle drug.

Speaking of drugs…*takes a deep breath*…

I’ve been a drug addict. Twice. I was hooked on opiates (percocet is what always worked). Twice. But let me clarify: I actually had a ton of discomfort and pain off and on for 16-17 months, and about 80% of the time, I actually did need something to get me through the day, even if it’s just to get out and run errands.

But, if you’re doing the math at home, 100%-80%=20%. Maybe I’m underestimating that number. I don’t know. I’m still having a really tough time admitting all of this to myself, even as I sit here typing it for the world to read. Rough night at poker? Ok, let’s take half of a pill on the way home to numb the pain. Something else went wrong in my personal life? Time to let my mind have a break, where’s my bottle of pills? It gave me a euphoric feeling for 30-120 minutes, depending on if my stomach was empty or not. And it gave me motivation to just do stuff, and be social. Chances are, if we talked at all late last year, I was having this euphoric feeling at least once during a conversation. Again, I’ll stress that I actually did need something to help with my pain and discomfort because at times, it was unbearable to the point that I just had to stay home. I hated it. I hated what my life was. So why not numb the mental anguish and torture? I remember at times taking it as a precaution if I was going somewhere, so I could be comfortable and not in pain, especially if I wanted to actually enjoy myself.

The first time I actually noticed the physical need for opiates was after my second surgery. I was on dilaudid (hospital heroin, basically) while in the hospital, but I was never weaned off of it. Maybe this wouldn’t have been a big deal had I not been getting the drug through an IV every 3-4 hours. Some say dilaudid is much more effective than morphine, and it seems to be the strongest medicine given for pain in hospitals. I was in a ton of pain after a major operation, so it makes sense. The doctors/nurses did nothing wrong besides not weaning me off before discharge. I remember being at home that next week and feeling super anxious, more anxious than I’ve ever felt. And I could. Not. Control. It. No matter what I did. That’s the physical addiction, your body saying, “Hey, we stopped making our natural pain killing chemicals, can you give us more of the synthetic, please?” The physical addiction is terrible. Once you decide you’re ready to stop, and you have to stop suddenly without properly weaning down, you will have anxiousness. You’ll feel like you’re catching the flu. Your entire body will ache. You’ll be exhausted, yet unable to sleep. You’ll feel like absolute shit.

The mental side of being an addict is different. There was still some anxiousness, especially late at night not being able to fall asleep, so of course I cured it with the culprit of my anxiousness. Eventually, you start to crave the euphoric feeling. You begin bargaining with yourself, convincing yourself you really need it, you’re hurting more than you really are, that you’re just taking it as a precaution. But you aren’t. You’re just feeding the addiction.

I was never on a high amount compared to other addicts and stories I’ve read. I would take somewhere between 5-20mg per day, whereas hard addicts may need 30mg or more all at one time. Regardless, it’s a fucking terrible way to live your life. And I feel fucking ashamed just for typing those paragraphs, which took me a long time to get through because of all of the emotion involved. I was at one of the weakest points in my life, and I didn’t want to admit it to myself, nor did I want to admit it to anyone else around me at the time. Did it keep me from doing better with my life at the time? I don’t know, honestly. Like I said, when I took it, I felt motivated to get a lot of stuff done, and part of that was because I wasn’t in nearly as much pain or discomfort. But long term, it’ll never be a healthy habit. And I’m just glad I was always smart enough to know that. Smart enough to not ever seek out opiates illegally for recreational use. Smart enough to never turn to anything stronger, like heroin.

January 4th, 2016. That’s the last date I took an opiate. It’s a date that I’ll remember forever. It’s the morning I woke up and said, “I’m ready to take my life back. I’m better than this.” I didn’t let myself hit absolute rock bottom.

The thing is, not everyone is fortunate enough to have that mentality. Most people hit rock bottom, some even hit rock bottom multiple times. It’s why I will never judge an addict because honestly, you sometimes just don’t have the mental power to admit that you have a problem. You bargain with yourself. “One more time, then I’m done. Promise.” But words are meaningless without action.

Throughout most of 2015, I also dealt with one of the longest and biggest downswings I’ve had in poker. It was really just terrible timing. And it didn’t help my mental state. I remember being so angry/depressed that I could not do well in tournaments at all. No matter how well I played, I just kept running into better hands. It’s just unlucky. But it didn’t help my mental state. And I wouldn’t be surprised if my mental state leaked over into my decision-making while at the table. I was at a point where I needed to take a few weeks off, let my mind relax, but I couldn’t afford to. It’s the worst Catch-22 you can encounter being a poker player. I’ve bounced back since then, and I’m in a much better mental state 100% of the time I’m at the tables thanks to working super hard on my mental game. But between the huge downswing, my health being sub-par until mid-December 2015, the already present depression, then the next bout with opiates, I was so broken and just didn’t realize it.

Saying I’m glad I’m better now is an understatement. I’m in a way more positive mental state now. And I realize how much of a role a healthy mental state plays into being physically healthy. I’m thankful I never felt the urge to abuse any other drugs. I can drink alcohol if my gut is friendly, and I have no issues whatsoever. I’ll have a cigar once in a blue moon. But I never crave either in an unhealthy way.

I’m optimistic to a fault as well. I assumed everything would work itself out, it would be fine. It’s how I always have been because things always worked out before I became an adult. It took me 3 years to learn how to study in college because high school was relatively easy for me. So when I got to college, I just assumed the grades would come with minimal effort. Not the case.

Things won’t get better without action on your own part. I can sit here and try my best to be numb to everything, but I can really only do that with poker, and then it’s not even 100% of the time (but is probably around 90% honestly). It’s difficult for me to do it with my personal life. It’s just not me. I’ve learned many times that I just need to fucking vent and let everything out. And I got away from that during the last 40 months.

In poker, when things start going poorly, we begin by examining our own play to make sure we aren’t playing poorly. Good players will focus on their fundamentals, making sure they are near perfect. Then we’ll examine our mental game, making sure we’re in the correct mindset to be playing the stakes we’re currently playing. Then, and only then, can we look to see if maybe we’re just getting unlucky, and all it’ll take is for luck to turn around.

I somehow didn’t apply this to my personal life. If I had used this exact thought process, I could have taken the necessary steps to make myself a better person, and put my time into healthy habits that would lead me towards my goals.

So, what now? Well, I drink coffee daily. Mostly because I like the taste of coffee. I don’t get much of a buzz from it anymore, but I’m fine with that. I’ve been on an antidepressant for migraines and IBD-related symptoms (both directly diagnosed) and I’m sure it helps my depression (never officially diagnosed) to some extent.  I sleep much better at night, and much harder because this medicine knocks me out (I somehow slept through the terrible weather that passed through last week). I usually wake up excited to start the day. My health has been good 4-5/7 days each week. I’ll still have my bad days, but I can physically deal with that. I’m gaining weight and eating a good diet.

What do I have to improve upon? Lots. I’ve learned a lot about myself. That I need to learn to make myself happy, and to keep myself happy, without depending on others for my happiness, and without feeling the need to fix every problem from everyone else (I enjoy offering advice, don’t get me wrong, and I really enjoy helping. But, I go way overboard sometimes.). I need to get into the gym, like yesterday. I need to continue to meditate daily. I need to continue talking with those closest to me, remaining open, and being comfortable with that. And I’ll increase my poker volume even more so I can be sure I’m able to reach each and every financial goal I’ve set for myself (goal-setting….something I will also continue to do).

The first, and toughest, step is admitting you have a problem. Once you’re able to admit that, you’re then able to create a plan of how to fix that specific leak in your life.

I find a lot of inspiration and motivation through music, something else I had gotten away from. I’ve been revisiting a lot of old music that I used to listen to daily, and I’ve discovered music I didn’t even know was released.

Two songs speak to me through troubled times and times of self-reflection. There’s a song by Kid Cudi titled “Love”. I couldn’t have found this song at a better time in my life. (Life is funny like that, by the way.) It’s much more positive than Cudi’s older stuff, and there’s no secret he’s battled with his own depression due to life events (and maybe other stuff). There’s another song I first heard maybe 14 years ago titled “Make You Feel That Way” by Blackalicious (an underrated underground hip hop duo with a funky style). This song just has such a positive upbeat message, beat, and tempo, and it’s been a go-to of mine for a long time.

 

My man Gift of Gab speaks some real shit here:

“…Summer days more likely that you notice breezes
Winter days more likely that you notice heat
When I’m warm more likely that you notice me
In the dark it’s more likely that you notice light
In the light more likely that you notice night
Hungry more appreciation for that meal
Dead broke more appreciation for that skrill
A bad day’ll make you really notice ones that’s good
And that’ll make things a little better understood…”

It fits with the popular saying that goes, “You never know what you have until it’s gone.” Couldn’t agree more.

 

Kid Cudi gets real on this track. He speaks about battling depression, knowing there has to be another way than pills, reminding us not to get down (young homie).

“…Don’t be so down, c’mon young homie
You’ll be okay, you’ll find real love
All of the stories, the hero gets lonely
Now is the time to show what you’re made of…”

It’s not time for me to show the world what I’m made of. It’s time for me to show myself what I’m made of.

“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” -Kobe Bryant

 

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