The last few days I’ve listened to Mac Miller’s final album ‘Swimming’ something like 20 times. When I’m not listening to it, I’m still feeling it. The sounds layered under the most mundane of tasks to the darkest corners my mind can go on the last train home. Mac Miller was an addict. The word itself described as a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences. Despite adverse consequences. For Mac, it was death. 26 years is all he will have. No matter what realizations we can derive from his music now, it is all we have. We can no longer ask any questions. No longer pretend that he was doing ok. Like so many of us, he truly wasn’t.
Something about his death affected me in a way I wasn’t quite sure I understood. When I listened to his music I was struck by the way he moved from having all the time in the world to the minutes on a clock. This parallel between what was temporary and what remained. There is so much hope in his words, but even when he soars he was never weightless. For those in the grip of addiction there is no such thing as freedom. Even on your happiest day, there is an anchor tying you to your past. There is no such thing as looking in the mirror and seeing someone you’re happy to see. Every positive feeling is fleeting. Temporary. The sadness always remains.
I don’t pretend to know the weight that he carried. I don’t pretend to assume that it was on par with mine. Or yours, should you be so lucky to identify with one of us who at one point or another lost the point of self control. There are varying degrees of addiction, but they are all capable of the same thing. It doesn’t matter how many candles you’ve had on your cake or how many dreams you’ve seen come true. It can steal the rest of your life.
Having merely 94 days sobriety I realize I am not seeing the world through the lens I one day hope to own. I know that every day is a gift, and based on any number of things besides the fact that my body can not handle alcohol might limit the number of sunrises I have left even if I never touch another drop. Life can be unimaginably cruel to some and regardless of what each of us are capable of there is no way around that truth for certain. You can do all you can and you still might fuck up. Or your life can get fucked up. This paradox can be part of what fuels the desire to act on impulse initially. Whats the use? When that part of your soul ignites there is the easy way and the hard way to extinguish it. When you’re on fire, you don’t have time.
Giving up drinking was quite honestly the easiest thing I ever did. I feel guilty saying that because I know for so many it can be the hardest. That doesn’t mean they were any better or worse off than me, that is just the physical manifestation of their addiction. Yes, for some giving up the substance may be hard but so are the liquid soaked memories. Even though I’ve found relief and ease in the abstaining portion of my sobriety, the shame and emotional elements of the disease are strong as ever. Every single day I am strong enough to quiet the voices inside of my head and refrain from feeding that addiction I am grateful for the flames I’ve contained. They are always going to be there, and I’ve made peace with that. I’ve spent half of my life carrying them around. They didn’t go down without a fight and there are trails of burned down rubble in their wake. I’ve spent the last few months determining what I could still save. When they’re burning, you don’t have time to decide.
The aftermath of addiction is something that stays with you and your loved ones until your last days. Healed or not. The guiding light I’ve felt from those who love me so deeply has righted every single wrong in my heart that told me I wasn’t going to get better. Even when that voice came from a man I’d thought I’d loved. Hearing you’re unlovable is not foreign to an addict. We repeat it to ourselves every time we wake up on the other side of a morning after. That doubt. That guilt. That shame. It can consume you. Let your guard down even for an instant and you’re wagering your life. Suddenly all we want is to feel shame the next morning.
The last song on ‘Swimming’ is ‘So it Goes’. It was the last thing he posted before he never woke up. I could pick out the lines I carry with me but it is the final symphony that I want you to hear. His legacy. In those last notes I hear an ode to the time he had left. What he never had. It is impossible not to feel something when you take it in. What if he’d woken up?
It is easy to label addiction as ‘bad’ but so often we reject the souls who inhibit those bodies as well. On my way into San Francisco I pass by countless addicts at different points in their cycle. They know no better than me what point that is. When you’re suffering, that sentiment doesn’t matter. Its been eroded by your drug of choice. Sometimes the thought of not waking up even sounds soothing. The dual implications of the sentiment. Physically waking up. Coming to terms with just how powerless you’ve become. If it was as simple as ‘realizing’ then 21.5 MILLION Americans wouldn’t struggle with addiction. How can there be so many of us yet the disease feels so alone? Isolation. Humiliation. They only lead to more suffering. We need to stop suffering in silence. Mac Miller was an addict. He was brave. He was loved. He was supposed to live a lot more than 9,490 days. He might have.
It is that chance, that keeps me going. For each of the 21.5 million of us, and the rest of you too. For as long as we’re here, we will always have possibility. What we may not have, is tomorrow.
Here if you need me.
Rest in Peace, Mac.