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Lions Roar : March 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 50 Every Day a Reprieve JOSH KORDA knows he is not cured— he never will be—but through honesty and diligence he enjoys a daily reprieve from depression and addiction. I WOKE UP SWEATING, gulping for air. I was in the grips of a panic attack, my stomach cement hard yet churning. In my mind, movie screens played horror films in a loop; the images in this multiplex were darker than Dostoevsky. I’d been sober for six years, but it didn’t matter. My new marriage was surely destined to fail, the small house we’d purchased in Brooklyn destined to crumble. My skills were worthless and would, without doubt, leave me unemployable. Everything about me, an inner verdict announced, was phony and shallow. Friends and family would turn away once my true nature was exposed. I had the feeling that countless eyes were piercing through me and locating something pitiable. I’d awoken into what was eventually diagnosed as “a major depressive episode.” What was the root of it? A childhood spent in a household where rage was routine, violence not unknown. I recall the terror of being awak- ened from a deep sleep at 4 a.m. and dragged by my ankles into a bathroom for a cold shower—the drunken voice of my alcoholic father berating me for being “unclean.” I also remember the sounds of my mother pleading to be freed from a room into which she’d been locked as punishment. Then there were the feelings of low self-esteem brought on by my own drug and alcohol addictions and the years I’d spent in society’s margins—living in squats, waking up late for job interviews, receiving dire head shakes from doctors and concerned friends. My six years of sobriety were thanks to meditation prac- tice and numerous twelve-step meetings, but my sanity was a patchwork affair held together by diversions: work, rela- tionships, family dramas, and creative projects. I raced from one preoccupation to the next, never acknowledging the hollowness in my chest, the tightness of my stomach, and the sense of meaninglessness that pursued me. This denial had finally caught up to me. That’s why my wife found me shaking in bed in a fetal position. Kathy patiently guided me to our primary care physi- cian, followed by an appointment with an Upper East Side psychopharmacologist, who was as polished as a TV weath- erman. He had an immaculate suit—down to the breast- pocket hankie—and his broad smile conveyed the impres- sion of a life spent entirely free of doubt, much less depres- sion. I emerged from his office with a stack of prescriptions: sleeping meds, antidepressants, mild benzos for panic attacks, and mood stabilizers. I spent the following months alternating between medicated numbness and self-hatred. There was a great deal of healing that needed to be done. My self-care during this period consisted of weekly visits to a variety of Buddhist centers, daily twelve-step meetings, and morning meditation. Perhaps this routine would be more than enough for most people. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for me. The morning sits were grinds. Instead of observ- ing them, I was intent on resisting my obsessive thoughts. Instead of listening to the entombed fear, I wanted to numb myself. I was falling into the trap of using meditation as a form of avoidance instead of acknowledgement and healing. I cannot conceive of a less skillful strategy for a meditation practice. What did the twelve-step groups have to offer? Unending variations of “Pray, go to meetings, read the literature, do service,” proffered smugly by true believers who—armed with quotes from the “big book”—dutifully insisted that clinical depression was repayment for lack of effort. Fortunately, my desperation finally motivated me to seek my own solutions. I located a Buddhist therapist and found our sessions a safe space in which to share my thoughts and feelings. Session after session, I practiced locating my fears as they arose not only in my mind, but in my stomach, chest, and shoulders. I contacted the long-buried