What did you think, that joy was some slight thing?
This is the fourth print installment of Kristin Dombek’s advice column. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Help Desk archives here.
Dear Help Desk,
I spent the past decade going to war. Seven times, not that I think the number of times matters.
Everyone who’s been to war has their own perspective on what it was and so it means different things and has different effects. Whatever it did mean — and I’m not sure it meant anything, though it did have a certain purity — the war experience has produced some consequences for me which I need help figuring out.
The problem is that I’ve come out of adjustment. There are lots of ways to describe it, but to put it simply I’d say that most things about life feel pretty pointless and the outcomes trivial. Even though the outcomes are not trivial at all. It just feels that way. Everything feels stupid and lame and disconnected from me. I guess there has been a kind of desensitization or something.
It’s more than a purely conceptual problem, however. There is also the drinking, sleeplessness, drugs, violence, and contempt for everything, including the future. Though I believe these are all just symptoms of that first thing, the weird alienation.
I woke up last week in a pool of blood. I don’t remember how the night ended, but I do remember a brutal fight with a drug dealer that didn’t end well. The head wound and all the broken stuff was fine, I was just thankful it wasn’t worse. I mean, it could still get worse.
How to rehabilitate? I’m not sure. Getting more war feels like the best option, but that can’t be right. That’s why I think it’s not PTSD. It’s more like post-traumatic stress dependence. Though I’m probably making that up. Either way, it’s what happens to an adrenaline addict in the time after they hit their highest high. I want more.
Or maybe I want something else. Sometimes I say the names of friends who were killed, then I say my name. It is clear I would rather have their name. Looking back, I guess the preference might have been to die there.
But at the same time I don’t now want to be dead.
What I want is to live in the moment safely. Currently, I feel like I might be so far in the moment that I have no connection to anything, past or future, or even right beside me. It’s just me alone in the moment, being a dangerous idiot. Or maybe I’m living in the past. I don’t know. Certainly, the problem is that I don’t know. Maybe I’m just having a long tantrum.
I drink every night until things get ugly. Most of the people who knew me have left.
Perhaps the “stress” is what does this. Though it’s not stress, really, it’s repeated long-term exposure to the possibility of being blown apart suddenly. It’s the length of the exposure that does it to you, I think. When you’re living with that, it seems you have to stop planning for the future in order to face it. You can’t have dreams and hopes and still operate in a world like that. At least I couldn’t, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Maybe it’s just not that easy to live after you accept your death.
I loved my last girlfriend so much it felt like I wanted to consume her. Instead, she broke apart trying to keep up with me. She started as this beautiful innocent creature, but she spent two years trying to relate to me and then she was too much with me and she nearly did not pull up in time. It reminds me of a story about an American soldier with his Vietnamese girlfriend during the war there who responded to their issues by getting naked in the shower and fucking with a live grenade suspended between them, which they set off as they came. I wonder how much that girl really wanted to be there, objectively. She only wanted to be with him, and it cost her. I guess he consumed her. I hope she wasn’t faking her orgasms.
Maybe it could be a problem of narrative. I was living a story and now the story seems to have stopped and I don’t really care, that’s what it feels like. Like an old ship rusting in a bay somewhere. Or maybe more accurately, just a car accident. I’ve come to a stop, metaphorically. That’s what it feels like. What it looks like is also very much like a car accident.
I don’t know what to do, is the point. What should I do, Kristin? Everything’s all unhooked and I’ve become a hazard.