Before 40

The age of 40 is a touchstone, albeit an awkward one. 30 is still seen as the dividing line between supposed youth and supposed adulthood. (A look over at Hikaruland might prove that debatable), and 50 means you’ve lived half a century. 40, I reckon means that you should’ve cast off those last vestiges of youth and become a full-fledged adult.

  

Now why is my 36 year old self pondering 40?

Well, much as how people talk about “Bucket Lists,” I’ve been coming up with a “40 List” of experiences I’d like to have before I hit middle adulthood.

  1. Spend a month in Uruguay or Chile learning Spanish. 
  2. Interview Ben Cousins and tell him in person that his story saved my life.
  3. Visit Mississippi, in particular the area where my father grew up and also visit Jackson (the state capital) to acknowledge my great great cousin Blanche Kelso Bruce (1st Black US Senator to serve an entire term).   (Jessie Mae Hemphill, a blues performer from the area of Mississippi my father’s family is from.)
  4. Find out more about the Irish & Choctaw sides of my family.
  5. See another openly gay NRL player play and succeed professionally.
  6. Visit Australia outside of the East Coast.
  7. See one of my plays performed.
  8. Visit Quai d’Orsay (the home of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
  9. Get married. (The child aspect, is, as per family tradition, going to happen after 40.)
  10. Finally become an Australian citizen (though not until after #6)
  11. Become an advocate for a healthy body image amongst gay men.

So that’s 11 experiences within 4 years. Hopefully it’s doable.

I’d like to talk about Ben

This is an extremely personal post and I’d also like to start it with a disclaimer: I have never had the fortune to meet Ben Cousins and I would never presume to know what his personal struggles and experiences are beyond what he has said in his autobiography. I am not a qualified psychologist nor therapist. Every person’s journey is unique and should be respected.

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Last year was probably the most trying I have ever had.

The previous year, 2010, I had lost my mother, who was the sole remaining member of my immediate family. I found myself thrust into taking on the role of running her business–one which I only knew the ins and outs of due to literally growing up in the office. Her field was not my passion by any extent, though I strongly approved and supported it. I was not prepared to take it on, nor was it the expectation of my mother that I would take it on. Still, cancer moves according to its own schedule and my mother passed away on 1 September 2010 and I moved into the world of business immediately.

For the first few months, it was oddly fun, in the way that new experiences are. It also delayed the grief that I felt.

Towards the end of 2010, while travelling, I overdosed intentionally for the first time.

It’s still a bit shocking to write that sentence, but yes, I did. When I think back to the why, it was because I knew I was in a role that did not suit me, but had to go through because I was supposed to and also one that I wanted to accomplish for the sake of my family.

Now, I must emphasise that this was not the first time I ever tried to commit suicide. I had previously attempted it in 2002 and back in the 1990s. I had a degree of treatment which did aid, but the greatest support I had in both times was my mother, who was extremely understanding and caring.

Armchair therapists may say that I did not complete my therapy completely, but I tend to be of the belief that therapy is a very personal thing and one size does not fit all.

In 2011, I intentionally overdosed–and I do not use that phrase lightly–a further 4 times. Each time my intent was to obliterate myself. I did not want to exist full stop.

What was definitely apparent–even to myself, though I never verbalised it—was that I never allowed myself to grieve over the loss of my mother and the greater loss of my identity as part of a greater thing: in my case, my family as well as country (by this time, I was living full-time in Australia and there was little need to go to the US). My partner, who was extremely caring and supportive (and continues to be to this day), was to some extent, at a loss though extremely sympathetic.

This is where Ben Cousins comes in.

During this period, I purchased a copy of his biography My Life Story and read it several times, which was extremely rare for me to do. Reading it, even though his story was much different from mine, I could relate to his story about living a life for the sake of others at the expense of one’s self.

I can happily say that I have been clean for six months and I’m more aware now than I’ve ever been of finding that certain personal cocoon that I can retreat to whenever I have those thoughts, because the association I have in my head is that they are a fatal pathway.

Whether it’s a lifetime struggle or not, I do not personally know. This is merely my story.

One final thought, there’s been a relative media silence on Ben Cousins since the beginning of the year. While, as a fan and as someone who has been indirectly touched by him, I would like to know that he is getting better,  it is probably for the best that he’s been left to get on with his life and build it in a way that best supports himself.

If you are in Australia struggling with these thoughts, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14) and/or the Australian Drug Foundation.