Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Nothing

I am beginning to think the ways I've carried myself through hard times previously in my life, are the most self destructive behaviors in my arsenal now.  Maybe they've always been so.  I have always struggled to stay put, when I felt the walls close in on me.  If I messed up or fell, I scrambled to my feet.  If one exit was blocked I found another quickly.  Keep moving.  Keep swimming.  Never stay down.  This is the response I feel was taught to me by the hardest working man I know.  When going gets hard, get harder.

Last January, in my first week of another hitch offshore, I was given the news that it would be my last time onboard.  Myself and the majority of my crew would be laid off and never see each other again.  The roof over my head and the food on my table feeding my wife and daughter, were now all on borrowed time.  I felt an extreme sense of urgency.  I grieved the loss of my offshore family for all of five seconds before I downshifted and burned tires around the mess ahead.  Crying wasn't going to reclaim employment.  I would have to do so with my own two fists.  In the three weeks offshore before flying home to officially lose my job, I had submitted over fifty applications for new jobs.  Fifty.  All over New England, all over the South.  We were given a two-month severance package and most guys I knew had no intention of even beginning to search for new work until they got home.  I didn't sleep at night.  Ever.  I felt as though there was no time.  You cannot find a business in North America paying marine engineers, that I didn't apply to.  I went way outside my comfort zone in looking for work.  Didn't give a shit what it was.  If I possessed the skills, my resume was being jammed down someone's throat.  In the end, through a few perfectly-timed connections and a relentless pursuit, I found my way back to the oil field.

This has always been my way.  Several months prior to my layoff,  I was flown off the rig and into the hospital with an advanced staph infection in my lower leg.  It wrecked me.  I had trained my balls off for the better part of eight months and dieted 50 pounds in preparation for competition.  And it was gone.  Immediately.  After spending eight days in a New Orleans hospital, I flew home to rest and recover.  Seven hours after the plane touched down in Bangor, I was on the bench press putting in work.  Because my arms weren't useless - my legs were.  There was always a next step.  Always a plan.  Always something to work for.

This is one way I made such a fucking mess out of the final months of my marriage.  I gave no time to process the full weight of the implications of the moment.  I waited all but two minutes suspended in the reality that my life was about to dramatically change, and the next several months would all but destroy me.  Before I'd even fully processed everything my future was about to hold, I was already slamming gears again.  And the very way I propelled myself through the early stages of my unemployment, served to irreversibly damage everyone involved in my separation.  Had I just sat down for a minute and calculated my next words, and next steps, it would have been relatively seamless.  I struggled in this medium between where I needed to go, and knowing how to get there, for months.  Though, in the end, I was able to deliver on my intention.  And while it nearly killed me, my divorce was finalized.

For better or worse, I've never been one to lie still while the waves washed over me.  I couldn't just sit there and embrace the suck.  Though, 'embracing the suck' is probably just a macho misinterpretation of simply feeling what I and everyone else are supposed to feel in those moments.  I needed to just slow down.

Now, everything is so different to me.  I hastily wrote in an Instagram post that this is not the life I ever imagined.  When I struggled with divorce, and with all the real life emotional wreckage I had to embrace along the way, I did so with a light at the end of the tunnel.  There was love.  All consuming and otherworldly love that provided me with a fire suit to walk through the burning skyscraper that was my actual life for months.  If not for the vision of everything possible ahead of me, I'd have likely never stayed on the rails.  This chapter of my life, the one to come, I pursued like every other before it.  I worked as hard as I could and carried a tremendous sense of purpose in my step.  Once I finally stood on my own two feet and came to terms with what I previously couldn't (the dissolving of my nuclear family; sacrificing a portion of my time with my daughter; possibly leaving friends and some family behind to follow my heart), I was all in.  Every ounce of struggle was worth every second to be where I wanted.  With who I had waited my entire life for.  Long before I knew what I wanted, our paths were set to converge and set the sky on fire.

And it all came apart.  And this is the first time in my life I lack any direction.  I just signed myself up for two extra weeks offshore.  I'll work eight of the following ten weeks on the rig.  Because here, I have purpose.  I don't immediately have to decide what today looks like, or tomorrow.  And while my heart and soul and brain are splattered on the sidewalk, I don't have to pick the pieces up yet either.  I am just here.  For better and worse.  Drilling a hole in the seabed with a crew of guys who are there on good days and bad.  There is a task, and a plan.  Unlike how I see my own life now.  I don't have another destination to point and shoot at.  And that's how I got here - a known destination.

When I think at my alternatives for a future after my dream of one went up in smoke, I get sick to my stomach and sit awake all night.  My mind consumes itself and I can't stop it.  Nothing can stop it.  When memories play like slideshows on the bedroom walls, I can't look away.  Honestly, I don't want to look away.  Because as much as it hurts to realize nothing is what I imagined, I am so afraid of ever forgetting it.  I don't want to not miss the life I'd worked so hard for.  And so I exist in another medium.  I don't know how to grieve this kind of loss.  After wavering and falling and crawling through the hardest decisions of my life and finally gaining traction, I cut my reserve chute on the way out of the plane.  Me, I knew I didn't need it.  I had found the courage that previously evaded me.  I was headed home to a new life and while I'd always honor the years that led me to the present, I was never more ready to embrace my future.  I felt the wind at my back.  I was talking less and doing more.  Every week.  Where I was one just projecting a future I was still to develop the courage to build, now I was just fucking building it.  I couldn't throw my chips in fast enough.  Everything I had.

I don't want to stop hurting because it's the only reminder I have left of what felt so good.  I don't want to move on because it fucking terrifies me.  I keep reaching into my chest.  Farther and farther to convince myself there is some way to hold onto the feeling that carried me this far, without having to accept how I arrived alone.  I play all the songs that remind me of everything that isn't here anymore and it drives a fucking stake through me.  But still, I can't turn it off.  I don't think this is the standard definition of "embrace the suck."  But it sucks.  Maybe it hurts so bad because for the first time, I don't have an exit strategy.  Maybe talking about it out loud IS my exit strategy, I don't really know.  I've never been here before.


  1. You have a great way with words. Thanks for sharing

  2. Jake,
    Don't feel alone. I am a not young man so I speak from years of experience. Life is hard and there are new challenges everyday. Several times in my life I felt adrift with no purpose or compasses to guide me. I lost jobs, been laid off the day before Christmas. I have changed careers several time. I to long for the oil field to start up, lost my job 3 years ago. But I pick up a job working construction for now.

    All in all, I found my purpose was there all the time. 3 wonderful children that called me Dad. No matter how bad life was, I was their Dad and hero. Every time I look at those blued eyed, blonde headed kids, I knew what I had to do, dig in and find a way no matter what it was.

    Young man if that light at the end of the tunnel seems dim, feel free to call. I have a flash light and will to shine it if you need a friend.

    Larry Bradford

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