Friday, May 30, 2008

The Beauty of Meetings (Requiem 4)

There is a myth out there that alcoholics have a drinking problem. I see why people would think this. I hear people in meetings say it all the time. They are wrong, though. Drinking is not our problem. It is our solution. There are some people who DO have a drinking problem. Their solution is to stop drinking. You take an alcoholic and a problem drinker. Let's say they both have too much to drink one night, get in the car, drive off and get pulled over. They get hit with a DUI, go to jail, and get hauled before a judge. The judge says to them "If I see you in my court again, I'm going to send you to prison." Up until now there is no difference between the two. Here is the difference: the problem drinker thinks about his job, his wife, his insurance rates, and decides he is done drinking. He makes a decision to stop drinking. The alcoholic starts thinking about what prison is going to be like. He knows he is going to drink again. The thought of not drinking scares him infinitely more than prison.

So for the second time in less than 4 months I started drinking and woke up in a hospital. It was after midnight. I called for a ride from my aunt and waited for her show. While I was waiting a nurse came in and gave me my discharge instructions. It included this computerized printout showing my condition and the treatment. Apparently, I was suffering from severe alcohol intoxication and chronic alcoholism. It told me I should stay away from alcohol if I couldn't limit my consumption. If I was unable to stay away from the sauce, there was help available in the form of a 12 step program or a professional counselor. As horrible as this situation sounds, I'm actually really grateful for it. If I had any doubts as to the nature of my condition, they were dispelled. I now knew that what I was hearing at meetings was true and applied to me: no alcoholic drinker once losing the power of choice in drinking ever regains it.

My aunt picked me up and took me to my apartment. I had caused quite a bit of concern when I didn't show up to my normal meeting or come home at a reasonable hour. The next day I woke up, called in sick to work, and then called Jen up. She was really upset with me. It's hard to describe the bond of two people that go through rehab and set about trying to turn their lives around. Strong bonds are forged quickly during times of catastrophe. And make no mistakes about it: my life was a train wreck (as are most that hit bottom). We went to two meetings that day. I stood up as a newcomer again, which was pretty tough. My pride didn't want to admit to screwing up.

We go to these meetings where we find people that are just like us. And in a way, we are given a new life that first time. We meet new people who only see us as fellow survivors of alcohol. People who see us in meetings and have only seen us do good things for ourselves and for others. At first, I think, it's why a lot of people go back to meetings. We go to our jobs where a lot of us have barely been getting by. We're angry and unproductive and always on the verge of being fired. We go home to our families. The people that have watched us make promise after promise to stop drinking and clean up our acts. They've heard it all before and talk is cheap. So maybe we try to reach out to our friends. Except that a lot of us have burned most of our bridges by the time we become willing to make changes in our own lives. If we do have friends that want to spend time with us, it's the friends that we drank with. The friends that did the same things we did at their jobs and to their families. They used to be our salvation, because for a couple hours a week we could just be ourselves and not be judged for it. Now, though, we want to stay sober. And suddenly we find these same friends a whole lot less cordial. They treat us as if we are a spy for the sober side. Or perhaps a missionary from teetotalerville. And so we are alone.

We go to these meetings and people seem normal. They smile and laugh and they look good. They have jobs and cars and houses and we think 'I am not like these people'. And then they start telling their stories. Tragic and Horrifying stories. Awful stories. Stories like ours. And maybe someone gets up and tells a story of driving drunk. And they get pulled over. And the officer comes up to their car. The officer can see they've been drinking and tells them to step out of their car. And they go to get out of their car except they are too drunk, so they fall out of the car onto the ground at the officer's feet. And then they throw up on the officers shoes. And for some strange reason, this strikes everybody as HILARIOUS. So they laugh. At horrible things like this they laugh. And when somebody does an everyday thing like get insurance for their car or get their drivers license, they applaud. And at first we don't get it. We think 'What are these people laughing at or clapping for?' Then one day somebody gets up and tells our story. Some of the details are different, but it's our story. They talk about missing births and disappointing their family. They talk about the pain and the loneliness. And we realize that we aren't alone. These people, we think, have been where I have been. And it slowly dawns on us that these people seem normal. They are happy. They have been in the darkness that we are in and have found a way out. And if they have found a way out, they can show us the way out. And for the first time in months, if not years, we have hope. We are not alone, and hope is suddenly not lost. And so we keep coming back.

So when I had to come back to those meetings and stand up as a newcomer, it was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do. Suddenly, the dissapointment, shame, and embarrassment of my life before I tried to stay sober came back.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Divine Intervention (Requiem 3)

Fresh from rehab in early spring of 2003, I made it exactly 110 days before I was found unconscious and not breathing outside of a strip club. Let me back up and explain...

The night I left rehab, I went back to the apartment. My dad had packed it up in order to prepare for a middle of the night backdoor move. There was stuff everywhere. I had to unpack a blanket and pull a mattress off of the wall it was leaning on in order to sleep. My dad was staying with his ex wife, so I had a few days with nothing to do. I scrounged what food I could find in the apartment and began the rest of my life. The one thing I remembered was that I was supposed to go to meetings. I had no car and our phone was off, so I had to walk a mile and a half to the nearest gas station to call my aunt and arrange for a ride to the one meeting I knew about. I went to the meeting and it was different than I remembered. In rehab, we were subjected to various meetings all day long. By the time the 12 step meetings came towards the end of the day, it was all I could do to concentrate. After a day on my own, I hung on every word. I kept hearing to get a sponsor and read the book. I left the meeting resolving to do just that. A couple of days later Jen got out and I now had a partner in crime. She told me about a club she had heard about that had meetings all the time. We arranged to meet at the club at noon one day. I showed up, but never saw her. After the meeting I ran into her. Apparently they had more than one meeting at a time in the club. I bummed a ride home from her and we arranged to catch a meeting another time.

My dad and I moved all of our stuff out of the apartment one night a few days later. My dad brought his ex wife and a couple of her kids (which included a half brother of mine). Between the five of us, we were out in about a half of an hour. I'd heard about covert moves like these before, but this was my first experience with them. Our new home was in an apartment right by Highland Ridge Hospital. It was also right by the train here in town, which was good. I was now not so dependent on others for rides. I set about trying to get a job. I spent a day or two at my grandmas looking through the paper and making calls. I got a job fairly quickly, but it wasn't going to start for a week or two. I knew I was going to need a bus pass to get to the job, so I got up at 5:00 AM one morning and snuck a free train ride over to where I could get to a day labor place. I filled out some paperwork and hung out until someone walked in and said they needed a half dozen people to pick up garbage at the dump. I volunteered to go and worked it out to give 5 bucks to a guy with a pickup to drive me out there. I think I was being paid about $6.00 an hour. I worked all day on my feet in the middle of a dump. We put in about 9 hours straight. I didn't think to bring a lunch, so it was a long 9 hours. The sun was out all day and I got burned pretty bad. We got back to the day labor place to get our checks. I got my check and cashed it with the machine there. I paid the driver his 5 bucks and after the government had taken their share, I only had about $35 dollars left. $35 dollars for 9 hours of being on my feet in a dump in the sun. I felt pretty good that I was going to such lengths to get my life back together. Pretty good, that is, until 5:00 AM the next morning when I woke up in agony. My back hurt, my feet hurt, my head hurt, and I felt as though I hadn't slept at all. I sucked it up and hopped the train back to day labor place thinking maybe I'd get a better assignment this time. They sent me right back to the dump. By the end of the day, I decided I was going to live as conservatively as possible to make my new fortune of $70 last until I got my first check at the new job. And I did.

I started the new job on April 15th. I learned that the first 3 months or so was training. I always did pretty good in school, so I was stoked at the prospect. I had to get up by 5:2o to make the 5:50 train that took me to catch the 6:30 bus to my 7:00 job. I had a new respect for people who relied on public transportation. At a meeting one day I heard you were supposed to pick a sponsor who had what you wanted. I asked one guy and was turned down. Then I heard a guy talk about all these vacations he was taking. I wanted that, so I asked him to be my sponsor. He had me start on the steps and read the book. I was calling him pretty regularly and going to meetings. Things were sort of falling into place. I had even started seeing a girl I used to see again. One day at the beginning of June, I opened one of the letters for me from the insurance company that had been sitting on our kitchen table for a few weeks. It was a check with a letter that said that my insurance was cancelled. I didn't understand at first, but what I came to find out was this: when I was let go from my job, my insurance stopped immediately. It was the 28th day of January. I had my grandma pay for one month of my insurance and my father another with my money. The insurance company took my grandmas payment and applied some of it towards the remaining 3 days in January. That left me short a couple of bucks for the February payment. That wouldn't have been a problem except that my dad never paid the second month. He took my money and never paid the insurance. They sent me letters asking for the remaining premium for February and for March, but in the move they were set aside. It was a whole month before I read them, but by then my grace period was done. The check was a reimbursement for the February premium that was short. I faxed in an appeal and prayed for it to go through. On June 9th I got word that my appeal was denied. I thought about all those bills I would soon be responsible for. Despondent, I got permission to leave early on June 10th and went home. I had this check for several hundred dollars in my hand with knowledge that I was going to owe tens of thousands. Tens of thousands that I didn't have. I called my sponsor, but got his voicemail. I thought about going to a meeting, but I made a deal with myself. I decided that if the check cashing store on the corner wouldn't cash my check, it was God's will that I not drink. I went to the store and after a long wait, they told me they needed another form of ID. Divine intervention, right? I went home, got the other form of ID, returned to the store and cashed my check. What can I say? I wanted to drink. I thought about bars in close proximity to the train. The nearest one I could think of was a strip club. The funny thing is that it is the same stop to go to the club for a meeting. I got off on the stop and stood there. I looked left knowing that I could go to a meeting and talk to someone about this. I looked right knowing I could get hammered and forget about this right away. I went right.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab… (Requiem pt 2)

At 23, I found myself without a job or a car. I had no money, girlfriend or any friendships that weathered the storm of my addiction. As it turns out, it was a perfect spot to start my journey into recovery. It began with an ambulance ride in the middle of the night from one hospital to another to begin detox. When I woke up the next morning I was numb emotionally, but physically I was a wreck. Nurses came in frequently to check on me. They gave me pills to detox from the alcohol. The first 2 days I was unable to leave the bed except to go be sick in the bathroom. I couldn't hold any food down and tried to sleep as much as possible. When I started to feel a little better, I was encouraged to leave my room. When I did, I found that I was across from a nurses station at the far end of a hall that went down about 5 rooms and ended with 2 locked doors. There was a security camera by the locked doors. All in all, it was like being in jail. Despite the surroundings, I was not uncomfortable with where I was. There is a certain comfort that comes from knowing you don’t have to worry about staying drunk or finding drugs or remembering to eat. I wasn’t allowed to have shoelaces or belts. This was a fact that played on my mind. This was the culmination of my life: I couldn’t be trusted to have a belt or shoelaces. It was a little disheartening, but I shook it off and tried to make the best of my circumstances. There were about half a dozen other patients mulling around the lone hallway. There was a common area that contained a TV and this was where the meals were served 3 times a day for the remaining 5 days of my stay in detox. When it came time to start looking at what I was going to do when I left, I was quickly informed that I would be going to a rehab facility. I needed to get my insurance in order, which required that I have somebody pay my insurance premium for the next month. Being in lock down, I arranged to have my grandma make the current month’s payment for me. After that, I had to arrange to have my dad pay for the next month’s payment with the remaining money from my check I had left at the apartment. With that done, the next rehab was arranged and I left one hospital for another.

On February 27th, 2003 I entered Highland Ridge Hospital. The hospital was set up in 2 sides: detox/psych and rehab. I was given a packet of information and placed into the detox half to spent another week there. After meeting with the psychiatrist, they put me on Prozac to offset the years of chemical damage I did to my brain. It was here that I met my first friend in recovery, Jen E. Jen was an alcoholic like me. She was married and she had a young child. Jen, myself, and another guy we called Vinnie played cards to pass the time when we weren’t too loaded from all the pills they had us on. We made a bet on one game of gin rummy where the low score had to bring the other two their dinner plates for a day. I lost and they started calling me Jeeves. As in ‘Jeeves, please bring me my dinner. I’d like to eat now’ Eventually Vinnie left and Jen and I were moved over into the rehab side of the hospital. Or as I lovingly call it: the brainwashing side or general population (gen pop for short). To this point, I’d spent 2 weeks detoxing off of alcohol. Realistically I was detoxed after about 3 or 4 days, but I was still nervous to go over to the other side. When I did, it was a shock. In detox I could sleep in and take naps during the day if I wanted. In rehab, we were up at 6:00 and had our days planned for us down to the half hour until 10:00 at night. The first few days I spent trying to stay awake and get used to the schedule. I’d get up at 7:00, shower if I felt up to it and then go down to the cafeteria to get something to eat. After breakfast it was to morning meditation. We’d read from a couple of recovery books and lay on gymnastic mats for 15 minutes listening to soothing music. After meditation, it was back to the common area to drink coffee and wake up. Starting at about 9:00, we’d split up into to different groups based on which counselor we were assigned to. Some groups were for presenting the steps or autobiography we prepared out of the packets we were each given when we entered Highland Ridge. Each step would have many questions we had to answer. Some of the questions seemed ridiculous. (“How has alcohol made my life unmanageable?” As if being in a hospital where they didn’t trust you with your own shoelaces was somehow managing my life well…) Other groups were for therapy to discuss different issues that came up. I remember that there was another patient who was really cold to me. One time he said to me something along the lines of ‘Are you even old enough to drink? How can YOU have a problem with alcohol? I spilled more alcohol than you ever drank”. With a little time now and in retrospect I can see that he was a sick alcoholic only sober a few days himself. At the time, though, I was furious that this guy was such a jerk to me. Deep down I think I agreed with him. I was only 23 years old. I always thought I’d be able to drink at least until I was in my forties or fifties.

After a week in the rehab side, my insurance company told the hospital that they were done paying for me to stay inpatient. They would pay for me to come during the days, but not during the nights. The hospital knew that I wasn’t ready to go home yet, so they put me up in an apartment next to the hospital. For a week, I went over there at nights. By now, it had been about 2 weeks since I started Prozac and I started to really feel the effects of it. I was really spacey and slept a lot. One time I feel asleep at the apartment and missed a group. They drug tested me when I came to the hospital and told me I failed. I was livid. I hadn’t used. They asked me to come back to the hospital. They told me they would board me there for the duration of my stay and work it out with the insurance company. I spent a day furious with the hospital. I explained to the other patients why I was staying at the hospital again. Nobody believed me. They all assumed I used. I stayed for one night and then told the hospital I was leaving. To make things worse, when I explained that I was sleeping because of the Prozac they took me off it cold turkey. So after 2 weeks in detox and 2 weeks in rehab I left the hospital, determined to stay sober.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

In The Beginning (Requiem part 1)

I started drinking when I was about 11. My parents had a box of wine in the fridge. I took a travel mug and filled up on my way to 6th grade. I'm not sure why I did except that I've always had a tendency to defy authority and I thought it would be a fine trick to drink booze under the teachers nose. I didn't drink much of it, though. I didn't care for the taste. In junior high I progressed to drinking before school. Mixing a little of everything out of the liquor cabinet, I would fill them back up with water to maintain the levels. I started smoking pot a little bit and on a couple of memorable occasions, tried acid and cocaine. I was in the gifted and talented classes at the time. I maintained a high honor standing despite the chemicals and the harder classes I was taking.

In high school I didn't experiment as much, but I continued to drink when I could. Out of high school I started drinking more and more. I had a scholarship from the state for graduating high school early and started college a year later. Within two weeks, I decided that school was cutting into my drinking time too much. I had a day job, but quit it after a fight with the boss. After a period of unemployment, I met a girl and moved on a whim to a college town an hour and a half away to be near her. I got a job and stayed away from alcohol for a few months. I was eventually fired for missing a couple of days and moved back home. The girl came to live with me back home. During one fight, I downed a half of a fifth of Canadian Host. Another time, I downed a bottle of sleeping pills. The relationship eventually came to a head when I was arrested for domestic violence. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I had to re-evaluate my life and the choices I was making. I was sentenced to 6 months of classes and moved back home with my mom to put the pieces back together. I had a truck repossesed right before this happened so I had throughly hit bottom. Or so I thought.

I kept up the drinking, sometimes drinking so much I would be sick for days. Living with my mom, I noticed she was keeping unusual hours and had strange friends stopping by for 5 minutes or so. I knew what was up, so one day I asked her if she could get me some coke. A few days later she came down to my room and told me to follow her to hers. Once the door was locked, she pulled out some powder and lined up a couple of rails for me. I did the lines and we chatted. At one point, she pulled out a glass pipe and took a hit off of it. She offered me one, showing me how to do it. (I want to say here that I would not change anything if I could. I love my mother and she was taking care of me the best way she knew how.) It was at that point that I crossed the invisible line in the sand. It was my Rubicon, and there was no going back. The next six months watched me smoke myself down to 92 pounds at my lowest. I begged, borrowed, and stole what I could to keep high. I had a job at the time. It kept me in money every two weeks for a few hours and kept the line of credit with the dealers open. I was a fiend and not beyond knocking on my mom's door at 3 in the morning to beg for one last hit. I have strong memories of this time. I would go get a post dated check loan and start smoking at 7 or 8 at night. I would go until 3 in the morning or until I ran out. I would beg first for more coke. If there was no more, I would beg for Valium, Soma, or anything else that would take the edge off so I could get to sleep (including alcohol if that was all that was available). I'd get to sleep at 3 or 4 (if I got to sleep at all). I was paranoid and was once so delusional, I spent 5 hours in the bathroom convinced the police were there to get me. I had showered with all of my clothes on and pushed the last few rocks down the drain to destroy the evidence.

The alarm would go off at 6:00. I would get up, more drained than I have the power to explain. I would try to wake up in the shower. Then it was off to work on my bike. It was a little over 3 1/2 miles and some mornings it was absolute hell. My legs would tremble and ache, furious at having to do so much with so little. We were on church welfare, so lunch was usually ramen noodles or (more often) potato flakes with warm water poured over them and stirred with salt and chased with a multivitamin. Every once in a while I could get my mom to let me borrow her car the few miles or I'd get a ride from her boyfriend Tony. One night a few days before Christmas I was locked in my room and started having a sort of seizure. I lost control of myself and lay on the ground shaking uncontrollably. The next day I went to my grandmother begging for her to help me. I spent about a week at her house. My father had come back into my life after 3 years of not seeing him. We called hospitals asking for help. They asked what I was taking and I told them all about the coke, but neglecting to tell them about how much alcohol I was drinking. They told me that I didn't need to detox from coke and that I should try Cocaine Anonymous.

I tried my hardest to stay sober (or as sober as I knew how). My grandfather was dying and I was stealing his pain pills before work to help me get through the day. I made it about 3 weeks without coke or alcohol then drank and ended up back at my mom's house begging for coke. I moved in with my dad and kept trying to stay clean. I lost my job after calling in sick one too many times (the irony is that the occasion I was fired for was a time I actually had the stomach flu. I missed countless days being hungover and drained from coke, but the stomach flu killed me) I started just drinking, but I would crave coke when I was drunk. I once bought a quarter ounce of coke after drinking about 10 beers. I didn't have a proper pipe and wasted most of what was there. When I ran out I was drunk and high, but severely depressed. I tried to kill myself, but chickened out at the last second calling out for my dad before I bled out. Then in February, my grandpa died. I took it hard and went on a bender. I drank prodigiously. The day of the funeral I had made plans to work on putting a band together. The girl came over and we started working on some songs we both liked, but I eventually drank the bottle of wine she brought and the 12 pack of beer I had. We went on a beer run and I blacked out. I woke up the next morning still drunk and took inventory. I was in my bed wearing just boxers with only a vague idea of what had happened. I had a couple hundred dollars left from my last check and knew I would soon have it spent if I didn't conserve. I had the idea that if I went to Wendover, I could drink for free. There was the added benefit of not knowing any coke dealers out there. I took a cab from our apartment to the bus stop and took the fun bus to Wendover. I blacked out. I have vague memories of being layed out at the back of the casino. The ambulance showed up. I remember smelling the salts they put in front of your nose. I've smelled them several times since them, but this was the only time they didn't cause me to cringe. I can remember them rifling through my wallet and then being in the ambulance. As a cancer survivor, I felt I should tell them. Except I just kept saying 'kidney cancer'. They took it to mean I had cancer. They called for a helicopter and I woke up in a hospital in Salt Lake surrounded by my family. They took my actions as another attempt to kill myself. It wasn't, at least not consciously. They told me I could voluntarily go to the hospital or I could be court ordered there. I told them I would go. I later learned that when my blood alcohol was taken about 5 hours after I blacked out, I was at a .24% That was still 3 times the legal limit and it was hours after my last drink. I had hit bottom again, this time via a helicopter.