I barely remember it. I remember being so afraid I was about to be locked up with lunatics. But who was I to judge? I sat in the waiting room with the friend who had driven me there. Of course, my paranoia only increased when, while waiting, they had a code red on the ward, and wound up with paramedics strapping a raving patient to a gurney and wheeling him out of the ward, all while he was screaming his head off. My anxiety grew. As did the delay of my intake.
We had stopped at McDonald’s on the way, and I had actually ordered a small fries. It was the first solid meal I had had in days – alcohol had consumed me. She found my choice of food hysterical, simply for the reason that I can’t stand potatoes (or corn, for that matter). These were staples at every dinner growing up. I can choose now. But I was shaking so badly from the low blood sugar, nerves, and going into DT’s that I figured it would be the easiest thing on my stomach. And I could choose how many I ate. They were simple, single items. No thought was involved. It was all I could concentrate on during the drive.
I was finally admitted at midnight. I had sent my friend home hours before. She had a husband. A life. I didn’t want to impinge on it anymore than I already was. There was so much paperwork, so many meetings with nurses, therapists. All I wanted was sleep and medication to make me stop shaking. I attempted to sound as “normal” as possible, but we all knew why I was there. I was at the end of my rope. My body could not function on it’s own, without alcohol. My mind was in a constant state of rapid-cycling, as it had been for weeks, months. I knew I needed help, or I would die. And for some reason, I wasn’t brave enough to do that yet. But did we have to delve into this at 12 AM?
I think I finally got my bed at 2 AM. And the IV with numerous bags and drips. I had a roommate, but at that hour of the night she was fast asleep with whatever pill they would eventually give to me – in an attempt to not only regulate sleep, but also give the body the days, weeks, months or years that it had never gotten a decent night’s rest – due to numerous factors, whether they be mental, addiction, or both. Gratefully, I think they let me sleep and stay in my bed, my room, for at least 36 hours. Enough to stabilize. And for that I am eternally thankful.
But eventually you detox, from whatever brought you there in the first place, and lucidity returns. And the anxiety. You look at the IV in your arm, the hospital gown you are wearing, the blank walls. Why did you do this to yourself? Why did you come here? How did you let it get so bad?
Luckily, I had a nice roommate who was in her own world most of the time. She would take me to meals, which was the worst part of the day. Having to sit and eat grey hospital food, with no appetite, while other patients screamed at what they “thought” they saw speaking back to them from their bowl of gruel. But if you didn’t eat, they noted it, and you were called in. It was like being sent to the principal’s office. Why wasn’t I hungry? I had no appetite, my brain was barely level, and years of fitful sleep had taken a huge toll on me. I didn’t want to be there. Which only slid me to the “possible problem” category on their chart.
I remember the first time I was able to look out the window of the ward, and through the dirty glass, at the field of nothingness – no grass, no trees, nothing – that surrounded us. And then the barbed wire fence, or some other defense, to keep us from leaving. And then, beyond that the horrid grey, dying industrial city that was the closest place to where I lived and took my insurance. It felt very “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to me. And we certainly had our share of a Nurse Ratched or two. It was so institutionalized, it felt like a prison.
And then the group therapy began. I hate group therapy. Either I spend my time simply staring at the floor, or if I am encouraged (read: forced) to share, then I will say something they want to hear. Most of the time. when I listen to the other patients’ stories, I either feel relieved, as in “thank god, I at least have meds that work”, or become exhausted listening to their same old plight. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. Anyone with this or any mental disorder deserves an untold amount of leeway. I do not judge others’ stories or lives. I feel for them, but I know I cannot fix them. Hell, I could barely fix myself at the time.
Which lead me to institutionalizing myself in the first place.
Group therapy for our mental issues also coincided with whatever addictions we might be suffering from, so I had my first introduction to AA there. As I have said before, AA might work wonders for some, but for me it feels like a church or a cult, and if you are a non-believer, than you are judged. The first “meeting” they took us to was as horrible as they come. Maybe it was a “scared straight” experience for us. We were taken to the poorest section of the city (the only time we were allowed off the ward) to a church, where every stereotype you think of when you imagine an addict would go. It was a noon meeting. Numerous people were chain smoking outside before it began, and though my roommate and I desperately wanted one, we were terrified of the hard-worn faces that we passed. It only got worse as we sat through the hour of listening to stories. And then we were forced to go around the room an announce who we were and why we were there. It was humiliating.
But they pounded into our heads the only way to get better (aka, get released), was to take your meds, follow the schedule, and attend group therapy and AA meetings. I cannot remember if I was there for a week or two, all I know is I was completely on my own. No visitors, no phone calls. When I was finally released, the man I was dating at the time picked me up on the sidewalk outside that horrid barrier that separated the real world from where I had been held. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I couldn’t imagine anyone would want to love me, let alone be with me after such an event. And it wasn’t a relationship that would last. I should have known that from the start. I should have been aware enough that I was a “rebound” from his divorce. But my brain was too scrambled and desperate for love that I ignored all the warning signs.
I did try AA for the first few months after I was released. Part of this was because my supervisor, a horrid woman who was a recovering alcoholic – but an angry one – insisted on it, in order for me to return. I don’t know if HR would have agreed, but I was so far down the ladder of the company I worked for, I didn’t even question it. I went every morning, to a 7 AM meeting. I went on the weekends, to random ones, where I discovered quickly that men would flock to you (although this is taboo in AA) to try and pick you up or give you their number “just in case you needed to talk”. I left each of these wanting a long shower. I also attended an all women’s one on Wednesdays, but living in an area with a high density of lesbians (and I am very pro-LGBTQ, so this is not a bash), the reaction was somewhat the same as when I was in the co-ed meetings. I never trusted anyone. Because it all felt as if they were looking for a new addiction to take the place of the one they had given up – and the easiest place to start was sex or a relationship.
I did attempt to get a sponsor, as one is supposed to. The strict rule is women get female sponsors and men get males. That way no sexual lines are crossed. But the only person I felt I respected was an elderly gentleman in my morning meetings that seemed harmless and truly willing to help. He took me on. Three months later, and after dealing with yet another pass from him, a man who was older than my father, I trashed him and the whole program. I had no place there. There was nothing that I could relate to. My use of alcohol was related to the grief of losing my husband and my world being thrown upside down. Everyone has a reason for using, for escaping. But my reasons didn’t feel akin to the other people who found the program helpful. I am happy for all of those who have found saving grace through AA. It simply was not for me. I tried, desperately, but I just couldn’t find a place there. No one could understand my pain, and I wasn’t a “sharer”. I am very private.
So, I suppose, you could say I “failed” at AA. But I don’t mind. I am really grateful for the fact that it is a program that helps so many other people. But like my husband, that day in the shower, when he asked me why people went to church, this felt the same. They need something outside themselves to hold on to. I just needed to find myself again. I am almost there. I am on a path that feels good, and though I am not perfect, I realize I do not want to be. I want to have the same feeling of freedom I had when I lived abroad for a year and let go of control and just accepted life as it happened – the good and the bad. I learned from my experiences and accepted what happened, the consequences, the positives and negatives from one young’s life – I accepted what I had done and moved on from them, with no regret – just aware they were lessons to help me grow. I think that is all we can all do. Take in the good and the bad, learn from them, try to grow and move forward.
It would not be my first inpatient. It may not be my last. With the brain I have I never know when the feelings will come back – the ones that haunt me and make me want to end it all. But for this moment, I will be happy I am where I am. Further away from those bad, bad years. Nightmare years. I am in a better relationship, though I do know I bitch about it a lot. I feel as if I have grown over the past 3 years, and have come to the realization that death is death, and grief is grief and we all deal with it in different fashions. But it should be honored, and given space. I will never fully recover from losing my husband. We all have burdens to carry. This is one of mine. I will never regret the time I had with him, or what learned. I hope now, with more clarity and years of therapy, I am able to put some of his teachings back into my life. I find I feel closer to him when I am more peaceful. And that is what I am searching for.
So, my first intake was to get my sanity back. It didn’t solve any problems, except to make me a decent individual to return to society. The rest is up to me. And I hope I can make the most of it.
© Sorrow & Kindness