The Year of Exhaustion

I’m in a bad place.

As a writer, especially as a writer in recovery, I’ve grown accustomed to expressing the dimensions of bad places such as this one. In fact, it seems like much of my career as a writer has peaked in my exacting the dimensions of what’s obscure and overlooked, bringing clarity to indescribable emotions and complex relationships.

Why can’t I nail this one down?

It is settled in somewhere between two feelings. One is that fuck it feeling where, almost instantly, the stabilizing forces and motivations in life get pulled from underneath you like a rug. That emotion that makes nothing more appealing than saying, fuck it, and then letting down your discipline for all things virtuous. The other feeling this place flirts with is that loss of reason for doing things, when habits no longer bring satisfaction.

Whatever is happening, I sense I am in the need of a major reset. It’s not a matter of switching off one circuit breaker or the other, it’s a matter of shutting the system down for a while. The air has grown thin here, I need to open a new window and take a deep breath.

I’m sure there are a lot of factors involved. I’m transitioning from writing a novel to getting it published. Writing it was a thrill; publishing it is a headache. The first is a creative exploration; the latter is a self-promoting series of unrequited love notes known as queries.

That’s part of it. Part of this sinking feeling, like my skin has slid right off the bones that hold it.

Some of it also has to be related to the emotional hangover that comes from acting on stage.

Eight shows over two weekends have taken their toll on me. While not playing a leading role, I’ve also been babysitting a five year old at rehearsals and performances while giving each my best shot. The feedback on the show has been great. I’ve certainly put everything I have into it.

There’s the rub.

I’ve learned that stage acting requires your all in a different way then other endeavors. As an athlete, I was always a hustler, giving my all on every play. When I set down to write a novel, I got up every morning before five to accomplish the goal. My first year teaching kept me awake past midnight each night to prepare for the next day. All tiring efforts, yes, but all of these endeavors involve a measure of internality—meaning, you reach deep within yourself to find that extra effort or discipline.

Acting is different. You have to share the depth with others on stage. Luckily, with this production, I was a part of an experienced, kind, and caring group who helped me reach those same sorts of depths I’ve been to before. Unluckily, I struggle to leave the stage once the performance is over. The heaviness lingers.

What I mean is, I can’t turn those emotions on and off with the sort of precision that I imagine veteran actors do. I was Bob Cratchit for two straight weekends. Tim died in my arms a total of eight times in twelve days. I have manipulated my emotions to the desired effect. And I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Would I do it all over again?

Hell yes. I wouldn’t trade the experience both for myself and my son for anything else in the realm of possibility. But I can’t shake the hangover effect of it all. It feels to some degree like I imagine Prometheus felt after giving man the gift of fire. This wild and daring side of life has been exposed and there’s no coming back from it.

Getting so vulnerable in front of so many with such frequency feels like running emotional marathons on a treadmill. I know there are issues that have surfaced from the experience that I have never addressed. But whereas my friends backstage tell me the experience helps them handle their issues, my issues felt like they wrapped me up with the locks of a straight jacket and no keys to escape.

The net result?

I have been insecure and neurotic. All of a sudden, just being a writer and a teacher and a dad isn’t enough anymore. Those feelings of fuck it, the dropping of reasons surface.

It helped to have my brother in the spiritual battle, the godson to my child with me for one of the weekends. We talked long into the night and through the mornings. We’ve taken different paths to where we both are now, but in a lot of ways, we’re hitting the same ground running.

He told me the story of the man who wants to walk across the country. It doesn’t happen by walking eighty miles one day and taking the next day off. It happens twenty miles a day.

2017 has been the year of sprints. I need a break to recalliber what a good pace will be for me.


Coffee shops have a similar attraction to a sober writer that bars do to a drunken lush.

I can sip my preferred beverage in an environment that consistently delivers on the same expectations. Like drunks at a bar, if things deteriorate, I keep coming back for more punishment. I’m sitting in my favorite one right now. I am trying to write my way out of this one. And I can’t.

When I first got sober, I wrote every day and it made me feel like I was nearing wholeness. I need to get that back. I can feel myself slipping at each seem. I feel a longing to stitch myself together again.

I am taking a break.

I have pushed myself to many different extremes in 2017.

I go to such extremes, in fact, that I lose track of the road that lead me here. A meeting and cup of coffee. A chapter in a book. A phone call from a friend. A conversation with a fellow sufferer. A ride to or from the airport. A word on a page.

I’ve been committed. I have committed others.

And I can’t forget any of it.

The road that led me here has set me free.

And while this freedom is one I work tirelessly for, it is a freedom I fear losing if its origins go unacknowledged.

Thank you for being a part of my life, for reading and engaging and expressing your gratitude for this blog and the recovery community.

Happy holidays to one and all.

I’ll be with you again on January 8, the second Monday of the New Year, with something new.



39 Responses to “The Year of Exhaustion

  • Hi Mark
    This, to me, makes perfect sense. The exhilaration of creating and the natural ebb, when that subsides. Then the active self-promotion of finding a partner to distribute your work is in itself one of those, action and results activities that never seems to satisfy. Surely God has a plan for this situation and without a doubt a lesson. Thank you for your honest expression

    • Thank you Jeff.

      How powerful it is to leave it up to God. Why do I struggle in such extremes when the simple solution is in front of me? Thank you for that reminder. I find it deeply gratifying to hear from others and know that I am not alone. There is something about sharing burdens that is magic. Appreciate you stopping by and leaving word,


    • Hi Mark , I am a 1st time reader and really enjoy your writing . The program and meetings save my sanity daily and although I have 25 years for 18 of those years I had two problems , I hate change and I don’t like things the way they are. Only in the last 5 or so years I gotten some acceptance on reality , Easy Does It , Think Think Think , Keep It Simple , I understand now . Self – care is my priority now .
      Mark B

  • I have always admired your tenacity, not just as it relates to the cadence of your posts, but for life itself. Creativity is not without limits and it can take a toll on the creator over time. Sometimes we need to take a break. Sometimes that break needs a time limit, sometimes not.

    Looking forward to catching up with you soon.

    • Thanks Damien – It’s the joys of sobriety for sure. Drunk, it’s all the things I always told myself I’d do, or told others I could do. Now I get to actually do them. I credit recovery. And of course, my showing up for it.

      I’d love to catch up. We’re actually heading to State College for the New Year. First night all that. I’ll be back first week of January. We should totally throw a coming home part of sorts for HD. Maybe we could plan something for when he is moved?

  • Thanks, Mark! I feel you, and I’m glad you’re taking a well deserved break. I suspect you will come back from it inspired and with a renewed sense of clarity around your work. This has been my experience. I recently read a book called The Net and The Butterfly about inspiration. It’s not a self help book, it’s scientifically based looking at the brain and how ideas happen. Lots of interesting stuff around how to tap the unconscious, which is really where the magic is. One of the things I took from the book is the necessity for naps, walks, and play in the creative process. Take a nap, take a walk, play with your kids, and I think you will return with some magic. Hope your holidays are awesome!

    • Will do!

      Jake, I just sent you an email as well. You are a really kind friend. You are also a superb writer. Your insight into that story was phenomenal. Not only to sift through the incompleteness to find its core, but to point out where there are opportunities to tighten and clarify that core. I’m blown away.

      Send me an email sometime would you? Catch me up on all things Hope Fiend and beyond?


  • Hi Mark! Like everyone said above, I’m glad you are taking a break!
    Exciting things, but tiring. I love what Jake says!

  • Holy Christ! Can you say “over-extended?” Athlete. Actor. Writer. No sleep? Yeah, that “fuck it” feeling is your body telling you to slow down and get off the merry-go-round. So fuck it. Do nothing for awhile and let your natural rhythms return when they are ready. You’d be surprised how fast “boredom” becomes a powerful motivating force…particularly for the type “A” personality you seem to be have.

    Rest. Relax. Chill out. Your energy will return when it returns.

    • Thanks for making it all seem so simple, Steve. I need that voice of simplicity in my life.

      Things in life a whole hell of a lot easier when I’m not taking myself so damn seriously. My sponsor always tells me that. It helps to hear it from others as well. Fuck it!

  • Thank care. Don’t linger too long in the lows…sleep. Have a cookie. Watch elf.
    Sending you stillness and peace.

    • Anne! How did you know that it is our Christmas tradition to watch Elf? Haha. Not lingering no. Responses to this post + wrapping up school + ho ho ho is helping. Although the ho ho ho is a new one. I’m not used to appreciating this holiday for what it is.

  • I totally get this. I get low, I get insular, I get creative, I get emotionally wrecked. But the difference now is I’m aware and I get extra meetings when the tiredness and self doubt kicks in. Have an amazing Christmas, you and your wonderful family S

    • Thank you for pointing out the flip side to the low, insular, creative, wrecked side of things. It’s like the cool side of the pillow, the way you describe it. Meetings and rest here I come! Happy holidays, S.


  • Yeah, I hear you on this one and I haven’t even written a book or acted in a play! I hope you do take time and play it loose as you need to. There are many more acts to come and you’ll do great.

    • Thanks Kristen. It’s been a great year to stay connected and follow what you’ve been writing and musing on. See you in the new year!


  • Just a thought, brother… You wrote, “I can’t turn those emotions on and off with the sort of precision that I imagine veteran actors do.”

    I find it interesting that you’re such a prognosticator that you can actually imagine what an actor feels and not only that, you know how they turn their emotions on and off.

    I imagine you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, when you put it that way…” Then again, I’m probably wrong. Er something. Relax a bit, my friend. Don’t think too much.

    • Thanks Jim.

      As Steve identified, I am most definitely type A. It baffles my wife. I can be quite easy going at times but I have this drive this thing in me. I know you can relate because you get after it on the bike the way you do. I have that same motor that just keeps me riding and riding and riding.

      It does help to see the way you put things though. It’s enough for a year, that’s for sure. The acting bit, while exhausting, will be a lifelong memory. Who knows what else it will lead to.

      Happy holidays brother! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a word.

  • Liz (Mullen) Harrell
    1 month ago

    You got this Mark. Tomorrow is another day so hold your head up. Thank you for your honesty in sharing this story. You have a gift for writing! Merry Christmas 🎄

    • Thanks Liz! It’s great to hear from you. I’m happy to share what’s been freely given to me already. I appreciate the comment. I’m working on this writing thing. Onwards to 2018!

  • TYSM for sharing Mark. TYSM for showing us that side of you, the side that hurts, the inner child that cry’s, that friend who simply needs another’s hug. I love you man for real you my friend are as crucial of a person to my writing career as anyone else out there. I mean you supported me when nobody ever new me. You have mentored me and put up with my crazy emails and shared with me your vast experiences of Strength & Hope and then you let me fly on my own and I crashed but you were still there for me when I came back just like I had never left. You made me feel welcomed, wanted, and needed my brother at a time in my life when nobody else was. For that and your amazing friendship, I am eternally grateful. I just crawled out of a little period of time much like you are describing I mean I am just now writing once a wk again but not every other her day like I was. Its scary when change comes unannounced. But nothing happens in Gods world by mistake right? So I always come back to well whatever I am going through I know he’s got a damn good reason for putting me through and I will inevitably be a better man for it when its all over. I think the same holds true for you my friend. Just hold on brother you know the ride gets bumpy as hell sometimes but in the end, your gonna come out of this even stronger and better equipped than you were. Stay strong, you got this bud!

    • Totally goosebumps, Marc.

      Thank you for that really kind note. It’s funny, I feel that you’ve given me so much in our relationship. I guess that’s what happens in sobriety. It isn’t a give and take. But it’s both sides giving and what you have is something with twice the power.

      It’s been great watching you grow as a writer. I’d like to help more as I go. Whatever you need, please let me know. I’m wondering how things turned out in the land of Goodsone?

  • We all need a break at some point, Mark, and yes, we sometimes have to force ourselves to do it…before our bodies do it for us. 😉

    I hope your holidays are warm and wonderful. Merry Christmas to you and yours. 😊

  • john spence
    1 month ago

    sending you big love Mark, thank you for all your support and understanding, its been priceless. thank you for the continued adventures every Monday with you and yours. I hope you can recharge over the holidays, your in our thoughts often, a very merry Christmas with love and luck for the new year, all our love johnny & mags x

  • I truly hope you have some days of rest. It’s almost impossible when you have small children but try to be in the moment. Breathe.

    This too shall pass.

  • Let yourself be replenished with good thoughts of all you have given and gained. Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas, Mark. We’ll look forward to your return.

  • Merry Christmas to you and yours Mark.

  • I get this ALL, Mark. I haven’t acted in a play, so I can’t speak to that experience (how great is that, in the end? I applaud you, in all manners of the term). But when I read this, I read burn out. I know it because it happens often to me. I won’t bore you with my current burn out, but I can tell you that these things bring us up to a peak where we have no choice but to make split-second-like triage priority calls. Life tosses a ton at us. Result, for me right now, is that I rarely write. Or read. Or do self-care. I have mentioned this before. But you recognize where you are at, and are adjusting the sails. Which is fabulous.

    You are a fantastic writer, we all know that. But it is taxing after a while. Creative forces do ebb and flow. Not that we don’t do the work, but I find that a recharge is needed for me at times. I love the advice here so far, and your own hiatus decision – chill. Read, but for fun. Watch bad movies. Or good movies. Lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling. Have snow ball fights. Don’t feel the need to “do”. Just be. (I need to heed that advice, but won’t…ha ha). Anyways, you’re a great man, and you need to rest. So rest.

    Much love to you guys and happy holidays!

    • Thank you so much Paul.

      A few things you wrote I hadn’t thought about. Like reading for fun. Am I reading all these books out of obligation or because of a duty “to do?” That’s a great question for me to reflect on.

      Well, I am on day one of the hiatus. Replying to this generous comment because it is a joy to do. You wouldn’t bore me with your recent burn out. Let’s hear more about it! It sounds like we’re in similar places so it’s always good to connect. Expect a call from me later today. And thanks for your support.

  • Thanks for another beautifully written and honest piece Mark. Compliments of the season to you and your family. I look forward to buying the novel in 2018. Much love… AndX

    • That gives me great encouragement. Thanks bud. Look forward to seeing all that comes from your 2018 as well.

  • Powerful, resonant writing — thank you Mark. Scrooge is one of my favourite stories ever written, so I hear you on what playing Bob must have asked of you. I did a 50 minute Alan Bennett ‘Talking Head’ monologue earlier this year and gosh it was vulnerable and amazing. My husband is also a writer, athlete and actor and reading your words I noticed a lot of parallels with him.

    I’m finishing this year with a sprint, having ghostwritten about 75% of someone’s book in less than four weeks. It’s been exhilarating and exhausting. I can feel that all I want to do in my spare time is watch Netflix and zone out, but there is another, quieter voice in me urging me to let that numbing behaviour (and social media, actually) and go within. So… maybe that’s what I’ll do for the rest of the evening. Or maybe I’ll keep watching Netflix. Sigh.

    Hope you have a restorative break and a beautiful Christmas with your loved ones.


    • Thank you Elloa. 50 minute monologue? Is there video? That sounds powerful. Certainly it must have been a transformative experience. It’s nice to hear here are other people out there like me (in reference to your husband). One doubt I have as I research agents and query is that I am just spread to thin in my interests; if I’m not an MFA’er pumping out the hits from college on then I don’t have a place as a literary fiction novelist. Just doubts though. You know, the stuff of Netflix binges and social media draws.

      That is a tremendous undertaking, the ghostwriting. I don’t know how you do it, honestly. The closest thing I have to that is some journalism experience. I couldn’t fathom the energy it takes to tell someone else’s story like that in such depth and weight in such a short time. It sounds to me that the advice I’m being given can be passed on to you as well: cue the Netflix. I like what Paul said: watch a good movie, or a bad one. Just take a break.

      Certainly, have a great holiday. It’s been a joy to interact and follow your endeavors in 2017. Here’s to another year of onward and upward. -Mark

  • We know as recovering addicts that ‘fuck it’s’ feeling is not a good place to be…lol
    But after reading this there is a lot of healing involved with it.
    It sounds like you’re detaching from it all.
    Taking an honest look at all you have accomplished and reflecting on where you’re going from here.
    My daughter is an actress and she just finished her first leading role movie.
    She used to do theater and she told me it’s draining so I have a little experience in what you’re feeling.
    Man keep up the good work and you will see me more here in 2018.

    • Hi Vernon-

      That is incredible about your daughter landing that role. Congratulations! You must be so proud. I’m a James Baldwin fan. This movie may turn out to be a good thing to show to my American or African-American Literature classes. What a great project!

      Thanks for the support. It’s funny, I’m coming back into the swing of things now (as far as blogging and submitting my novel and the rest) and I do feel refreshed. We need to take breaks, no doubt. I’m just not good at stopping anything after I start—haha.

  • A shark, if it doesn’t keep moving, dies. Sometimes we humans yearn for this ceaseless movement, and often we want movement forward. But what does forward mean? Accomplishments? Change? Perhaps just survival? I think it’s many things, the motion can morph, can bring satisfaction, or can be disappointing, and that’s okay. One thing: your writing always hits a sweet spot and does not disappoint.

    My husband says: “life is not a spirit, it’s a marathon.”
    When he was using, off and on, he was often sprinting until near death. The marathon, though it’s long, and can get boring, is what has brought us here I imagine.

    All the best and to the unknowns ahead of us in 2018 my friend.
    With warm wishes,

    • Thanks Marahu-

      I’ve never heard that about sharks. It makes perfect sense when I think about it. I mean, I’ve never seen a shark at rest. Putting the words the way you did is a concise and powerful punch. It’s true. It’s their nature to moving, to stay on the attack.

      The marathon and sprint. Yuppers. I’m learning that mroe and more everyday. Most especially when trying to get work published. In reflection, in the break I took, it became very clear that I’m just grateful to be a writer. I will keep writing. I have the tingles of a new novel that I’m starting even before I get the one I finished represented. It’s what makes me happy. It’ll be published, eventually and all the rest. I’ll do it myself if I have to. But (with a huge dap / big ups / high five to you and the recovery posse) I found the confidence in 2017 to declare who I am. Not the alcoholic and addict part–I’ve been declaring that for years–but the writer part. With that sorted, as they say, everything else will take care of itself.

      I wish nothing but the best for you and your husband this year. What an awful end to 2017 for you two and the country you live in. I follow enough news to know that the efforts from the main land have been abysmal. For my part, holding you and your husband and everyone affected in the light.


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