This verse in one of Alice in Chains’ most haunting songs captures the essence of the Stoic battle:
“And yet I find
And yet I find
Repeating in my head
If I can’t be my own
I’d feel better dead”
That verse, has haunted me since a very long ride home from a behavioral health center in Leland. North Carolina. I had just been released from the state’s custody and had been staying there for the last month or so due to an failed suicide attempt. I had tried to take my own life on the floor of my friend’s bathroom.
The reasons for the suicide attempt were extensive and things had been coming to a boil for a very long time. But, at the bottom of everything, I understood the reasons for all the pain and affliction in my life was that I felt that I had no control of my life anymore. No control of myself or the things that were happening to me.
I felt helpless and dependent. I felt trapped. I felt abandoned and I felt mislead. Therapy wasn’t helping. I was bouncing around various facilities where they would basically strip me of everything but my inherent rights. I had just lost my best friend to a shooting and would soon lose my girlfriend to suicide. I felt like control was being ripped from me. I felt like I was no longer my own.
The need to be one’s own. One’s own man. Free from outside influence. Free from tyranny. Free from anxiety. Fear. Unnecessary pain. To be free from the slavery that Seneca talked about—the slavery of pointless obligations, other people’s expectations, materialism, the slavery of addiction or ambition.
And yet it is with some tragic irony that the man who wrote that lyric was for too much of his talented artistic life not his own. The man who wrote the lyrics responsible for every action I made since. The, essentially, author of the mantra that saved my life, is the same man whose life was not his own.
He was addicted to heroin and cocaine, cigarettes and self-loathing. In the end it was death that relieved him of those forms of slavery, or rather we could say that the slavery killed him and deprived us of him exactly 16 years ago.
This is sadly a common Stoic theme too—to fall personally short of the beauty of words and the insights of the philosophy. To paraphrase an earlier part of the song, yet we fight, yet we fight…
So let us repeat that Stoic mantra in our head today and pray for strength that Layne Staley didn’t have.