Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Honeymoon (Requiem 15)

I’m a childhood cancer survivor. I had one whole kidney removed and half of the other in two separate surgeries when I was about a year and a half old. I went through chemotherapy for a year. Whenever I tell people this, they inevitably ask ‘So you probably shouldn’t drink then, right?’ I usually give them a line about how I’ve always functioned about the same as anybody with two kidneys. They’re right though. I probably shouldn’t drink. Using that type of ‘should seem obvious’ logic, knowing that I’m a full fledged junkie and a drunk should cause me to be on my toes 24 hours a day to avoid slipping back into old behavior. If only it were that easy.

It’s hard to explain the type of thinking that precedes me drinking again. If the thought ‘I should go get drunk’ popped into my head, I would laugh it off. At the risk of sounding schizophrenic, the ‘alcoholic’ in me, is much more subtle than that. It generally takes advantage of situations I’m in. For example, if I’m having a toothache I start telling myself that I need some pain pills. Not to get high, just to deal with the pain. I actually tell myself this stuff. And I believe it. The minute I get my hands on the prescription, though, then it’s ‘I’d better take 3 or 4 just to get on top of the pain‘. Pretty soon, all pretense is lost and I’m out to get high again. With alcohol, the thoughts that work on me aren’t ’I want to get really drunk over and over again.’ They are more along the line of ’I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I want a drink. Just to relax.’ Again, though, once I’ve taken a drink then I’m off to the races. Anybody who has seen alcoholism up close for a period of time can see right through these justifications and rationalizations. Somebody who hasn’t been around it can easily be taken in by them.

A few months before Katie and I got married, I was having some pain due to a cyst growing on my wrist. I talked to a doctor and he prescribed me some pain pills. Right from the start I was taking them more than prescribed. I told myself that because I was in pain the guidelines for when to take the pills were more suggestions than set rules. In August of 2005 I had surgery on my wrist. I finished all of the pain pills, but I had the doctor refill the prescription when I didn’t need him to. I told myself I was still sober and this type of behavior didn’t count. A month before we got married, Katie had a prescription for the same pills for something or another and I found myself taking them on the sly. I was still in pain, I told myself. Despite my history of pain pills throwing me off, I didn’t think this was losing my sobriety. And so the wedding approached. The day of the wedding, I barely remember anything. I have only mental snapshots of the ceremony and the reception afterwards. For our honeymoon we went to Disneyland. There is much I could say about it, but I will only say two things: I had a great time and if I could do it again I would absolutely not.

When we got back, we fell into a routine. We worked during the week, went to her parents on Sundays to watch football and eat dinner, and I went to meetings almost daily. Katie’s dad and brothers were die hard Redskins’ fans, and that year for the first time in 5 or 6 years the Redskins had a decent team. I’d go watch the game with her dad and brother and often afterwards just sit around and talk to her dad. Besides his time in the CIA, he was an adjunct professor at the U of U in the political science department. I’d ask him about experiences that he had and he would talk for long periods of time. Sometimes he would interrupt himself and ask ‘Do you really want to know this stuff, or are you just humoring me?’ I definitely wanted to know. It wasn’t like me to spend any time with family like this. Our family wasn’t that close, so I just ate it up. In November, the 3 of us (Katie, her dad, and I) went to see the Rolling Stones play. On the recovery front, I was working with my sponsor and still going to meetings. The new year came and went and things kept on.

In February, Katie and I decided to go on a cruise to the western Caribbean. It was scheduled for the second week of March. The day we left, Katie’s dad dropped us off at the airport. I had been a little concerned about being on a boat with so much booze, but we found out that they had 12 step meetings on the boat. I had one or two hard days, but I got through it sober. The day we came back her dad picked us up at the airport. He took us back to his house where we had parked our car. We were showing him some of the souvenirs we bought when he got serious on us. ‘I have something to tell you' he began. And then he layed a bombshell on us.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Big Day Approaches (Requiem 14)

At the hospital with my rock star friend and Caylee, I had to make a choice about telling Katie's father what was going on with me. I was really not looking forward to it, but Katie was having to constantly explain that I wasn't available for this or that and she was tired of it. So I called my soon to be father in law. He answered the phone and almost the first thing out of his mouth was 'Why does my caller ID say you are calling from University Hospital'. Nothing got by this guy. I spared him most of the gory details, but I let him know that I was an alcoholic and I wanted to get it under control before I married his daughter. He seemed to handle it pretty well. I think I may have gained a little respect from him. As much respect as admitting you're a drunk and need help can get you. After I finished detoxing, I went to another facility called Journey. On the way between University Hospital and Journey, I managed to stop by a store and buy a bottle of cough medicine. I downed the whole thing so that when I showed up and they did my intake, my vital signs were pretty out of whack. I had to cop to using on the way between hospitals. Katie was flabbergasted.

Time and time again I used. Just the thought of never being able to drink or use again caused me to WANT to drink and use. You hear a lot about 'one day at a time' in meetings. It's a great slogan, but for me it stayed a slogan. I just couldn't seem to grasp the idea of not worrying about drinking tomorrow. At this point, I wasn't drinking as a social lubricant. I wasn't partying or having a good time. I didn't even really want to drink. But once the idea got in my head, I couldn't seem to get it out. I was obsessed. That's the only way I can really explain getting high in the hour between leaving one hospital and entering another.

Journey was somewhat unique. Besides the usual 12 steps, they took a somewhat holistic approach. They didn't serve any red meat, incorporated a new age philosophy book, and once a month had a native american sweat lodge. I had a hard time with the food, but I loved the sweat lodge. With the sweat lodge, I really felt connected to God. Off and on through my life I've had a hard time with religion and spirituality, so I enjoy any time I feel particularly close to God. Even if it's doing something I would not normally do.

I grew up with no religion in my house. Both mom and step dad had been raised in different religions (mormon and catholic respectively). They weren't religious people. I was antireligious until I was 18 when I did an about face and was baptised into the predominant religion here in Utah. I went to church for a while, but I didn't seem to find what I was looking for. I think the initial euphoria I got when I finally admitted to myself I believed there was a god eventually subsided. My pink cloud burst you might say. I learned that there was a difference between religion and spirituality. It was possible to be religious without being spiritual and vica versa. As I understand it, religion is a social thing. It's a bunch of people getting together and practicing the rituals that they understand connect them to their god. Spirituality on the other hand is all about you and what you believe in. Other people don't come into the mix. If you have a good connection to your god, you are spiritual.

When my 28 days were up, I coined out. (most graduation ceremonies in rehab involve getting a commemorative coin. You spend thousands of dollars at their facility and at the end of your stay you get a coin, a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, a pat on the back, and this advice: go to 12 step meetings. I could have saved thousands by buying a $5 dollar book and going to meetings. I only wish I hadn't been through rehab so many times before this finally sunk in) That night I went out and ate the biggest steak I could get my hands on.

That was the end of May of 2005. Our wedding was scheduled for October. So we began the preparations for the wedding as I once again set out to put together some time sober. About a week out of Journey I went to a meeting and heard a guy share that I related to. I asked him to be my sponsor. His plate was full so he passed me off on one of his sponsees. Once again I had a sponsor. I started calling him and he suggested I come with him to his home group. A home group in a 12 step program is a meeting you go to regularly. The idea is that you can get to know some people pretty well and they can get to know you. So if you are a little bit off one day, they will notice and talk to you about it. His home group was for both alcoholics and their spouses. Katie was game to go try it out, so we went. It was a Tuesday night group at a government building. It was a little weird because it was the first time I had to sign in with a cop in order to go to a meeting. Despite having to quasi-surrender in order to get in, we liked the meeting. We found couples in recovery. I saw guys who had over 20 years sober. Katie saw girls who put up with those guys. If we were going to make this marriage work, we were going to need something like this. So we made that group our home group and went back most weeks.

Time flew by and pretty soon I had 90 days sober. Then 4 months. The wedding was right around the corner, I was about 5 months sober and things were really cruising. The biggest roadblocks had to do with the wedding planning. Even though Katie took care of everything for the most part, I got sick of the constant talk of the wedding. I tried to be a good sport, but I failed. At some point my soon to be father in law pulled me aside and said something like 'Look. I know this is a lot of fuss. Let me give you some advice. Just let her have the wedding. Do what she asks and it will go a lot smoother. Trust me on this'. In the end, he was right. I still wish I could have had the powder blue tux, though.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Obituaries and Famous People (Requiem 13)

In recovery, you hear about the 'jumping off' place. It's the crossroads of two paths. One is the path where you are sick of drinking and using. You are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The other path is where you are sick of being sober. You just aren't getting life while sober. It's too hard. The intersection of these two paths is a horrible place to be. What do you do when you don't want to drink or use, but you don't want to be sober either? A lot of people choose the terminal solution. Whenever I see somebody under the age of 30 in the obituaries with no real explanation of what happened, my mind goes to the jumping off place. I'd been there many times. Each time I'd been there, I looked at my options. Drinking and using might kill me, but suicide would kill me for sure. And so each time I drank.

Okay, so you can only go through rehab so many times before you have the obligatory 'rock star in rehab' experience. I had mine while in the hospital after being given the ultimatum. Respecting his anonymity - I'll just say that he was the bass player of a big hard rock band. A band that some of my friends listened to. He was detoxing on his way to the famous rehab facility on the old Osmond sound stage. One or two of the people in there were pretty clingy to him. I felt sort of bad for the guy. I imagine he was used to the hanger's on, but I wasn't. You hit bottom and decide to do something about it. You're at a low spot in your life and you have people that want you to tell them about how cool it is to go on tour. Bless his heart though, he took it in stride. I had a couple of chances to play guitar with him when Katie brought my guitar, Jenny, in. One day he made a comment to me about musicians. He finished it with 'But you're a musician, you know'. Nothing like bonding with a rock star to start sobriety out. When he transferred out, he even gave his cell phone number out. I took it and gave him mine, but I'd played this game before. I didn't expect him to call me and I KNEW I wasn't going to call him.

When you're in rehab, the sense of camaraderie is tremendous. Like you are a group of explorers planting your flags together - 'This is where I take my life back". Spend 28 days or even 7 in close quarters with complete strangers and you get to know them pretty quickly. Especially when you count all the time spent in groups talking about feelings and the things that surrounded your drinking and using. A lot of us haven't had any relationships like this before, so we think we are forging these lifelong friendships. Sometimes we do, but mostly people fade away. I stayed on the outskirts of recovery, but I kept coming back. Of the 30 people in the first rehab I went to over 5 years ago, I know of exactly 1 person that stayed sober. (Jen E) And this after the promises of sobriety. The signed books that say 'This time will be different. I know we'll stay sober'. In my experience, if you still see 1 person in 5 still at meetings even 90 days later it is above average.

At the same time, a girl I'd been in another hospital with came into this hospital. I didn't remember her (it had been a bad detox), but she explained that we had hung out at the other hospital. When I went from this detox to another hospital for the 28 day spin dry, she followed me. Her name was Caylee. Like me she was to continue to struggle. I guess I should have known she would have a hard time after being in 3 different rehab programs with her. One day I saw her and her mom on the A&E program Intervention. I want to be careful to say that I wasn't ashamed of her. That's not how I felt. I just felt sad. Sad and tired.

I collect obituaries of people that I've known in rehab/recovery that have died. One day after a meeting about a year ago I went up to a newcomer named Andrea and talked to her. We had a five minute conversation about recovery and what was going on in her life. I went home and went about my life. When I went back to the same meeting the next week, people were talking about Andrea. She had overdosed a few days after I spoke with her. I clipped her obituary and added it to my collection. These experiences take their toll on you, so that when you hear about a friend that 'went back out' to drink again you mentally detach a little from them. Because you know that one day you're going to be reading their obituary.

I think I'm bringing up these friends to make a point: a drunk is a drunk. Whether they have toured the world and made millions or if they live day to day, hand to mouth. I feel just as honored to have known Caylee or Andrea as to have met my rockstar friend. When I hear about a Lindsay or a Mary Kate being in town going through rehab, I always wonder what the big deal is. I've got friends that are sort of fame whores that way. They'll go an hour out of their way to go to a meeting where someone famous is. I'll take an hour with my sponsor Kim over an hour with Lindsay or Mary Kate. Any day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Family Man (Requiem 12)

I’ve done some incredibly shocking things while drunk. For example: Since I started playing the guitar in 1996, I’ve played in bands a few times. In 2002 shortly before beginning my rapid descent into madness, I was in a band that played mainly covers. Practices were usually nothing more than a glorified excuse for me to drink a half dozen beers while deluding myself into believing I was doing something useful. One day at practice I changed it up and was drinking whiskey and cokes. After practice we were all going from the singer’s house where practice took place to the drummer’s house to party. We jumped in the car of the sober guy and took off. About a block away I realized I’d forgotten my bottle of whiskey. We doubled back so I could grab the bottle. We pulled up, I got out and noticed there were some people waiting at the front door. I jogged up to the front door, excused myself through the people and let myself in. I made it halfway up the stairs before I realized that I didn’t recognize anything in the house. It then hit me that I was in the wrong house. I turned around to see the shocked look on the faces of the people still at the front door. This was THEIR house. I turned around, mumbled something along the lines of ‘Whoops. Wrong house. Sorry about that.’, and then jogged to the right house next door to grab my booze. My band mates were cracking up in the car as I tried to play it cool. Like I didn’t just walk into somebody’s house by accident RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.

As laughable as that as, it’s not the drinking story I tell people that raises the most eyebrows. By far, that honor goes to the fact that I got engaged while drunk ....in a bar....on a dare.

As my drinking slowly got worse, Katie and I were spending all of our time together. She had even introduced me to her family (shortly before meeting her father, she said to me cryptically ‘There’s something I want to tell you about my father. He used to work for the CIA’ – I thought she was messing with me. She wasn’t. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but Thank You Hollywood I guess you can). About 3 days after I met her family, her grandfather died. The day he died the doctor had told the family that he was going to go soon. Katie wanted to stay with her family that day. It was my birthday that day, and I selfishly talked her out of being with her family to go to Wendover with me. I mention this to show how self centered I can be while drinking. Unfortunately, this behavior wasn’t a one time thing. While drinking I could be incredibly mean. While sober, I worked overtime trying to make up for the damage I had caused by my words or actions. It wasn’t just Katie that I treated so poorly while I was drinking. Anybody nearby was fair game. I would be as charming and sweet as I knew how 6 days a week and turn into a monster on the 7th day. I’m not sure why Katie stuck around, but she did.

At work one day, a coworker told us he was playing a show in Park City at this bar I really liked. Katie and I made plans to go up there. Around this time I was drinking this bubbly wine called spumanti. At the bar that night, I ordered a bottle of it. People around us saw a couple order a bottle of bubbly and were looking at us to see what the occasion was. Katie thought it was pretty funny. She dared me to go tell our buddy playing drums in the band that we just got engaged. As a lot of people know, never dare a drunk to do anything unless you don’t care if they do it. I was already 2 or 3 sheets to the wind, so I went up to the band and told them. Our buddy then did something neither Katie nor I expected: he announced to the bar that we had just got engaged. The bar comped us the bottle of wine, and we spent the night being congratulated. The next morning we both woke up and looked at each other. The talk went something like this: “Man, Rob is going to tell everybody at work’ ‘You're right, he is’ ‘What are we going to do about it’ ‘I don’t know. Are you against the idea of us getting married?’ ‘No. Are you?’ ‘Not really, no’ ‘Do you want to just be engaged?’ ‘Yeah. Sure. Okay.’ ‘You have to ask my dad, though, okay?’ ‘Yeah. Sure. Okay’. And we were engaged. That day we went and picked up a ring. The next day we went over to her parent’s house for family dinner. Her dad had this way of dragging me off to a room by ourselves to watch TV and do some manly socializing. I’ve never felt overly masculine, but that day I was petrified. I had visions of CIA interrogations as I tried to change the topic of discussion from ‘How the Redskins look this year’ to ‘By the way – can I marry your daughter’. I don’t want to give away too much - her dad died not long after we were married and I don’t have enough memories of the times he and I spent together to be passing them around - but it went far better than I could ever have expected and I got his approval.

The celebration was short lived. Katie gave me an ultimatum to sober up or the wedding was off. After a false start in another rehab before a booze filled vacation, I went back to the hospital I’d been into twice before in the last year.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Leaving Las Vegas (Requiem 11)

During the period of time I was going through IOP, I had a routine. Monday through Thursday I was busy from dawn until dusk. The weekends, however, were mine. I still went to meetings, but I had time to myself. I had got a new sponsor by this time and I would meet with him on Sundays. He read to me from the book our program is taken from. I started to work the program. I went out to eat with people in recovery. At a restaurant with a group of people one day, the waitress was really flirty with me and gave me her number before I left. I hadn’t really given girls much thought since Jess. It’s like Chris Rock says, though, (to paraphrase): I can’t run fast enough to avoid a girl chasing me.

At work, I would tell Katie about her (her name was Xanie – pronounced Zanny- short for Alexandria). Katie and I were becoming pretty good pals. I felt comfortable around her and would tell her pretty honestly about what was going on.

One thing about being an alcoholic is that people have these ideas about what an alcoholic is. I’m sure most people have visions of burning garbage cans under bridges. Of old men with big red noses always carrying brown bags; covered in multiple layers of dumpster retrieved army jackets and wool sweaters. Most of us aren’t like that, though. I was 24, but couldn’t have passed for older than 18. I’m a small kid anyways – 5’5” and 130 pounds at this point. I dress conservatively (preppy some might say) in polo shirts and shorts. To look at me, you couldn’t assume I was alcoholic. Yet I was. I found it funny how people perceived me. I think a lot of people saw me as an enigma. I looked like a high school kid, but I spoke of things far more serious than most high schoolers. When I told Katie of some of the things I had done and been through she seemed appropriately shocked, but I don’t think she really understood that I am the same as the bum under the bridge with the bottle surgically attached to his hand. The only difference between that guy and me was that I hadn’t burned all my bridges. Yet.

After I had been sober for 2 or 3 months, some of the guys in the house had a trip planned to Florida. I hadn’t been on a vacation in probably 7 years at this point, so I was looking forward to it. We flew down to Orlando and spent the night a friend of ours’ girlfriend’s house. We did DisneyWorld the next day and then drove over to St Petersburg. It’s on the gulf of Mexico and it was fantastic. We fished most days. One day I caught a baby hammerhead shark. During the trip, I called Xanie once or twice and experienced excess levels of drama. When I got back I called her and told her that the relationship was over. I’ve received my share of being yelled at through the years, but never have I ever (nor do I ever expect to) received the verbal onslaught I took on that phone call. Everything I had heard about fiery latinas was true. I let her speak until she said everything she wanted to. It was only fair.

I was talking to Katie one night not long after I got back and we decided she should come over. It was snowing pretty hard and by the time she came over it was late (probably 1:30 in the morning). She stayed over until morning when I had to go chair a meeting. I got busted for having a girl over and had to do all the chores in the house for a week. I did them without too much fuss. The next week my old nemesis Paul had stepped out of line and was responsible for all the chores. He didn’t do all of them, but nobody cared. I was really mad because the guys had been on me like white on rice to get everything done. It was more fuel to the fire I was carrying against Paul.

Katie and I started hanging out on Saturday nights at this point. We went on our first official date to a steak house. The next night I went to a family Christmas Party. For a few weeks prior to this, I had been telling anybody that would listen what a dirt bag Paul was. (One of my biggest defects of character is my mouth. Despite my small stature, I’ve been known to mouth off to guys much larger than me – Paul was one such guy) I let it get to me so much that every aspect of my life was affected by it. I was constantly irritable and unhappy. So I was at this family Christmas Party and I saw people having a glass of wine or a shot of tequila with impunity. They were having a good time and I was just angry. On my way home I made up my mind to go get trashed. I called Katie and asked her to meet me at a bar. She didn’t want to see me throw away my sobriety. Okay, I told her. I knew she’d come around. About 5 minutes later she called back and said she’d meet me there. By the time she showed up, I was one or two boilermakers to the good. A Boilermaker is a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser. When you want to get there fast, the boilermaker is the way to go. At some point we were asked to leave due to my level of drunkenness. I woke up the next morning at Katie’s apartment.

A week before Christmas, I was thrown out of the recovery house. I crawled back home to mom’s house determined not to slip into the level of addiction I was in before. I made a decision that I was done with 12 step meetings and recovery. I kept hearing in meetings that if I wasn’t done, I needed to go out and get done. While my friends in recovery had a New Year’s party, I rang in the new year of 2005 passed out in my sister's bed after a drinking a bottle of rum.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Road Narrows (Requiem 10)

So at 24 years old, one more time I was back in the hospital. It was the 6th different hospital I'd been admitted into in a year and a half. It was the 2nd time that year I'd been at this particular hospital. They put me in a different ward this time. It was geared more towards psychological problems. I fit in far too well. Each morning they brought breakfast to the communal room we had. I'd eat and then go get my medicine.

As far as medicine went, I was on quite a few. One drug was Thorazine. It's an older drug. It acted like a tranquilizer in me. It would hit me like a freight train and I'd sleep for hours. After a few days, they always took me off of it. They also had me on Librium, which is a drug in the class of Valium. It is given to help offset the effects of detox. They slowly lowered my dose on this drug until I was off of it completely. They also had me on an antidepressant. I don't remember which one I was on by this point, but I bounced from one to another for a good couple of years there. They also had me on vitamins. Alcoholics are notorious for being malnourished. They tried various antipsychotic medicines (Depakote, Geodone). Antianxiety medicines (Seroquel). Sleeping pills (Trazedone). The general goal of this hospital was to find the chemical cocktail that would allow me to function normally. It's a wonder I could walk or talk with all the meds I was on.

A frequently used line in meetings is that alcoholics cease growing emotionally when they start using. For example, I started drinking around 11. When I sobered up, emotionally I was 11 years old. I believe it. Once I discovered alcohol and drugs, I used it as a tool for living. When things were tough, I used. When I wanted to celebrate, I drank. Alcoholics are fundamentally sensitive people. We never really learned to deal with life. We have extremely low tolerance for pain (mainly emotional, but physical too). We knew that if we were in pain, we could take something. Why, then, would we ever bother to learn how to feel our way through loss or heartbreak? Yet when we sober up, we are now forced to deal with the day to day ups and downs that most people our age have long since learned to deal with.

After medicine, the day would drag slowly by. There were groups where we discussed daily goals. There were groups to draw or paint or play music. There were meetings with counselors, and psychiatrists. And down time. Lots of down time. Time passes slowly in the hospital. It's how I imagine time would pass in prison. After 1 week I wanted to go home badly. I had crossed the line, though. Leaving was no longer my option. I spent a couple of days in open hostility at them for keeping me there. I was so angry that I couldn't leave. I would say horrible things to the staff. They just listened. The longer I was going to act like that, the longer they were going to keep me. And keep me they did. A couple of days of this, and I realized I was showing them that they were making the right decision by keeping me. Once I made the connection between being a jerk and staying in the hospital for a really long time, I instantly turned calm again. I spent a total of 3 weeks in the hospital that time. And they only released me when I got into an intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment center.

IOP treatment is when you go to a place for several hours a day, several days a week. I was going Monday through Thursday from 6-9. My life was like hell week from boot camp for recovery. I got up at 7:30, got ready and went to my 8:30 job. From 8:30 to 5:00, I worked. At 5, I was off work to head over to IOP. I had just enough time to do ...nothing. Rush hour traffic meant I got there about 5:30, so I'd grab some tacos at a nearby taco stand and eat them while I waited for everybody to show. From 6-9 I was in groups listening and occasionally giving feedback. (note: I have since spoken with one of the girls I was in IOP with. She remembers me giving pointed feedback that was accurate, but quite harsh. She says I told her she was going to go back to doing drugs. Ouch!). At 9, I left to head back to the house in time to do ...nothing. We had our 10 o'clock closing meetings, so I was pretty much booked all day. By this point, the closing meetings were coming up on 2 hours. Between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. I was booked for 13.5 of the 15.5 hours. And with those two hours, I had to get from one place to another. To say I had minimal time to myself would be an understatement. I had no time to drink or use. And so the months passed...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Russian Roulette (Requiem 9)

Note: This is the story of a few days of my life that I am not proud of. I am retelling it to remind myself where I come from and what I am capable of while drinking. I hope nobody will find it too distasteful. I don't condone any of the things I did while drinking and using. Neither will I try to offer any excuses. My goal is to tell the story truthfully and accurately.

Readers are doubtless wondering to themselves "What is wrong with this kid? Why doesn't he just stop drinking. This story is the same thing over and over." If it sounds repetitive while reading it, try to imagine living it. They say insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting different results. According to that definition I was insane. It had been about a year and a half since I came to recovery and each time I drank I found myself caring a little less about what happened to me. The danger with relapsing is that after a while it stops being that big of a deal to you. You figure 'I'll just get sober again. Anyways I only have a few weeks. That's nothing.' It's a real life version of russian roulette. Each time I took a drink was one more pull of the trigger. Eventually it was bound to catch up with me.

On my way to Wendover, I drank 7 or 8 beers in about 80 minutes. Being too much for me, I was forced to pull over to the side of the road to be sick about 20 minutes from Wendover. Somebody driving by at the time would have seen a car rolling down the shoulder of the road with the door open. My foot had slipped from the brake, and because I had my head out of the door throwing up, I hadn't noticed. I only noticed when I went off the road into the dirt. Braking the car again, I grabbed the cans (crushed and still full) rolled down the passenger window and tossed the lot out the window. Being now composed, I drove into Wendover. I played at one casino, drinking while playing. I jumped back into my car and drove to another casino. I very nearly crashed the car into another parked car while parking mine. I got out, went in and began to play again. At some point I blacked out. I woke up in a hospital again, disoriented. I was at the university hospital back in Salt Lake. I walked outside and called my mom. I laid down to rest and fell asleep. About two hours later I woke up still outside the hospital. I called again. She sent Tony to come get me.

When Tony got there, I told him I had some money and was looking to cop. No problem, he said. We got back to the house, I found a bed and crashed while Tony set about getting some coke. I woke up with Tony asking me how much I wanted. As much as you can get, I told him. In the meantime, he had some pain pills he could sell me for 5 bucks a pill. I bought them all and popped 4. He brought out the coke and we proceeded to smoke some. It was only at this point that I noticed a porn was playing on the TV. I went back to ignoring the TV and focused on getting high. At some point my mom joined us in the TV room. People were coming and going and at one point my mom and I were left alone in the room. Mother and son smoking coke together while a porn played. The most striking thing about the situation was the fact that neither of us noticed or cared. Tony happened to walk in the room then and had a moment of clarity. He told us it was wrong what we were doing, that it wasn't right for a mother and son to smoke coke together while a porn played. I always laugh to myself at that. How messed up do you have to be that the coke dealer is disgusted with you?

One of the people that came over was a stripper. She showed me how to take a hit of coke via a kiss. Naturally, I was smitten. This was a Friday and my mom had something or another going on that night, so we had to leave. I went with my new stripper friend to her house with her kids. We smoked more of what I had while her kids were in the next room. She had plans to do something or another, so she left with the kids. She came back a little while later and took me back to my moms house. I spent the rest of the night until early Saturday morning smoking coke and popping pills. I finally had too much and passed out. (Cocaine is an upper, but if you do too much of it your body shuts down. It should be a huge warning sign to lay off, but I didn't see it that way) I came to Saturday afternoon with the house to myself. A knock on the door and the stripper was over. She was acting strange. I didn't get why she wanted me to stay upstairs and talk to her. Then it occurred to me that my stash was downstairs. I ran downstairs to check my stash and found it gone. I ran back upstairs in time to see her drive away. They had unlocked a basement door and hatched a plan to steal my drugs.

When my mom and Tony came back I got some more coke. I was smoking some, but a funny thing was happening. I kept throwing up. Because I hadn't eaten anything, I was only dry heaving. I tried to take some pills to calm down, but I kept throwing them up. Saturday turned into Saturday night and I was ill. At some point all of us heard someone walking around upstairs. We were all supposed to be downstairs, so we panicked. We started getting rid of our stuff and vaccuuming the floor to clean up any coke that might have fallen. My mom and her friend took off, leaving me alone. I was convinced the cops were going to arrest me. I did the only thing I could think to do: call 911. The ambulance was there within a minute. They put me on a stretcher and took me out of the house. As I was leaving I saw my aunt and my grandma watching the goings on. I was delusional and shouted at my aunt that she stole all my money. At the hospital I told them I had a seizure. They loaded me up with painkillers. At around 3 in the morning I called my dad to come get me. He took me home and I fell asleep on the couch.

When I woke up, I took inventory. I had a few blister packs of pain pills, a prescription for more, and only my new stepmother was around. I asked her where my dad was. She said he was at work. I was confused. Why would he work on a Sunday? She told me it wasn't Sunday. It was Monday. I had been out for nearly 30 hours. I spent an hour thinking about what I was going to do. I couldn't go back to the recovery house. Neither could I go back to my moms. I decided that if I didn't go back to a hospital I was going to be dead in only a matter of time. I asked my stepmom if she could take me to the hospital. We stopped first by the pharmacy to fill my prescription. On the way to the hospital, I took all twenty pills in the prescription. When I got there, I didn't tell them I had. My thinking was that I didn't want them to pump my stomach, and if I was going to be sobering up than this might be my last hurrah.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Heartbreak Hotel (Requiem 8)

Some people view 12 step programs as a type of group therapy. On some level that is right, but if that was all they were, nobody would stay sober. It is a 2 pronged approach: the fellowship of recovery, and the program of recovery. Meetings are the fellowship. Spending time with other people in recovery is the fellowship. We show up and talk to other people just like us. We see we aren't alone. It's what keeps us coming back at first. At some point, though, the fellowship will stop keeping us sober. In order to do that, we need to work the program. The program is the 12 steps. It's getting honest, cleaning up our pasts, and passing it on. Both are vital, although around the time I moved in to the Heartbreak Hotel I did not know it. I saw the fellowship as the sum of what recovery had to offer.

My days began like this: I would wake up in the downstairs room I stayed in. Usually exhausted, I would go upstairs and take a shower. Back downstairs to grab my things then I was off to work. After work, I'd head back to the house. I'd usually find one of the guys hanging out and go catch a meeting with them. Afterwards we'd invite some people back to the house and hang out. At 10:00 each night we'd have closing group. Anybody was welcome to come and many did. Imagine your first year at college. You're excited to be on your own, people over at all hours, you have arrived at last. Those were the types of feelings I felt during that first month.

I was feeling so good that I didn't pay much attention to my 'break' from Jess. Then one day I got word she was getting married. This could only have been 3 weeks or so since I moved out. I was shocked and confused. I didn't understand. A night or two later I had a dream. In this dream, Jess told me she was pregnant and felt compelled to marry the guy. I woke up in a cold sweat and mustered the courage to call Jess. I called her and asked her what was going on. She stuttered a little bit so I just came out and asked her "Are you pregnant?". As it turned out, the dream was right. She told me that she was pregnant and felt compelled to marry the guy. It was a kick in the gut. Only in the next couple of days did I get wind of the fact that she was due at the end of February. Doing the math, that meant that I could be the father. I later learned that it wasn't a possibility, but at that time I just knew that I either was going to be a dad or else she had cheated on me. Neither possibility was one I wanted to look at. Jess always maintained that she never crossed the line before I moved out. Even still, that would put her pregnant the weekend I moved out.

A lot of us alcoholics tell ourselves that we aren't hurting anybody when we're drinking. Take this example, though. Jess wanted me to marry her. She wanted me to stay sober and be responsible and start a family with her. I wanted to get drunk and use drugs. When it comes right down to it, can I blame her for stepping out? I don't think I can. I'll venture to guess that I forced her into it. I didn't force her to become pregnant, but I held her hostage in a relationship where I wasn't showing her love or affection. I wasn't even trying that hard to stay sober: a bare minimum for any alcoholic relationship. Sorely missing the love our relationship was lacking, she looked outside of it. She was desperate to find what our relationship was missing and perhaps made some poor decisions because of it. It's taken time to come to this understanding, but when I catch myself thinking 'this decision won't really affect anybody else' I remind myself about what my drinking did to Jess's life.

A week later I had a doctors appointment. The doctor prescribed some anxiety medicine. I brought the prescription home without filling it. Talking with the guys in the house, we decided I should not fill the prescription. Making a show of it, we shredded the prescription and may have even set fire to it. The next day I called the doctor and told them I had lost the prescription. They called one into a pharmacy for me. I picked it up and took a few. I showed up to a meeting that night, but the pills were beginning to hit me. I crawled into the back seat and fell asleep. The guys at the house found me asleep in a car with a bottle of pills in my hand. The heater was blowing full blast (It was set to cool, but I was having overheating problems with my car) and it was already 90 degrees outside. They saw it as a suicide attempt. (once again I hadn't planned a suicide attempt. at least not consciously). I tried to explain to them it wasn't what they thought, but they weren't buying it. The house voted and decided that I needed to stay away from the house until I was 72 hours sober. That night I went to Jess #2's house. The next 2 nights I stayed in a pop up trailer outside of Rob's house. They had borrowed the popup trailer for the annual campout. When it came time to get back in the house, I had to drug test. I passed the test, but I also had to be voted in by the other guys. In the few days since I was out, they had brought in a guy named Paul. At the meeting to be voted back in, the guys went around telling me honestly what they thought about what I was doing to myself and what I needed to do to stay in the house. Having to hear what a dirtbag I was from a guy I didn't know was more than I could stomach. I started a resentment that I held onto for a long time against Paul.

The campout was a lot of fun that year. I got back ready to stay sober. At work I was doing well and got along with most of the people I worked with. One girl, Katie, and I would flirt around. It was nothing serious, but we got along pretty well. Things mellowed out at the house. I was sober for about 6 weeks when I went to go to sleep one night. I looked at the clock and seeing that it was 12:30, I had the sudden thought that I had better get to the gas station before it was 1:00 if I wanted to buy beer. Nothing was out of the ordinary, I just knew I had to get to the gas station.

One thing you hear in meetings is that at times, we are without a mental defense against alcohol. I wasn't upset, I just had the thought that I had to buy beer. I lived in a recovery house and went to daily meetings. I was doing everything I could think of to not drink. Still, though, after this thought I didn't even put up a fight.

I went to the gas station and as I was buying a 12 pack a cop walked in. I smiled and nodded my head at him as I walked by with the beer in my hand. I got into my car, opened the box and grabbed a beer. Before I started backing up out of my parking spot, I cracked the beer. Backing out of my spot, I looked at the cop in the store with his back to me. I smiled, took a drink, put my car in drive and got on my way to Wendover.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pitiful and Incomprehensible Demoralization (Requiem 7)

After another week in detox, I came out with a renewed vigor to stay sober. Unfortunately, it did not last. The next 3 and a half months saw me in and out of treatment centers, the relationship with Jess disintegrating along the way.

Out of the third hospital, I made it to 29 days and got drunk. I drove out to Wendover again and got an ambulance ride back. I made it a week and got drunk. I started hitting emergency rooms with phantom symptoms of pain fishing for pills. I entered a psychiatric hospital that also handled substance abuse. I was in a lockdown ward for a couple of days and then got transferred to the open adult ward. I met a girl there and fooled around with her one night in a room where we thought everyone was asleep. A day or so later I faked a seizure. I was rushed to an emergency room where I was loaded with all types of painkillers. A few hours later after a bunch of tests determined I was faking, they took me back to the open adult ward. I was released and thrown out on my ear. I was reaching depths of demoralization I had never dreamed of and all the while Jess was slowly detaching herself from me. A few days later I was getting drunk again.

It wasn't too long before I was searching for coke again. One night I ended up at a dealers house. I scored and spent a surreal night driving around from coke house to coke house. By the end of the night I was broke and had let a dealer borrow my car for one rock of coke. I didn't see my car for 2 days. I couldn't keep on like I was, so I checked myself back into the place I first went through rehab. I spent 3 weeks there again. By the time I came out, I knew that nothing was going to change. Jess and I never really fought, but we never really talked either.

One Sunday I stole over to an old drinking buddies' house and had a couple of beers while watching a movie. When I made it back home I was thinking that a break would probably be a good thing. That week I went to a meeting and ran into a guy I had known since I first came to recovery. His name was Rob and we talked about how things at home were pretty bad. Rob's wife had just moved out and taken the kids. He was about 45 days sober and talked about how he was alone in this huge house. He was walking around kicking his kids' toys out of the way. He looked at his walls and saw dusty rectangles where family pictures had hung only days before. I felt like a ghost at my house and we talked about maybe moving in together to help each other through this tough time. That night I went home to Jess to talk about maybe taking a break. When I brought it up, she said she was thinking the same thing. I called Rob to see if he was serious about moving in together. He was. That was a Wednesday. We made plans for me to move my stuff out on Friday. Friday marked one year since I had been found outside of the strip club. When the day came, I got off work and called JM. He came over and helped me move my stuff. The first night at Rob's he got a call from a friend of ours named Dave. Dave was drunk and was looking at a possible divorce. The next night Dave joined us. Not long later, a fourth guy named Bruce came. He, too, was going to be starting a divorce. The house was quickly becoming known as "The Heartbreak Hotel" after the place Homer stayed when he and Marge were getting divorced on The Simpsons (which, of course, came from the Elvis song).

Determined to stay sober, we all sat in his living room one night. One person pulled out a recovery book and read the daily thought. We went around the room and told about our days. The highs, the lows, how our cravings were. After we had all shared, we felt a little better. Just knowing that there were 3 other guys new in sobriety trying their hardest to stay sober through relationship woes felt good. We decided we would continue these 'closing meetings'. We also decided that we should try it in the morning, but that only lasted a while because we all had different start times in the morning. Without trying to, but thanks in no small part to Rob's generosity, we had started a sober living environment. Things were beginning to look up again.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Relationships and Other Distractions (Requiem 6)

There are some jokes in recovery circles regarding alcoholic relationships. One goes something like this: What do you call it when one alcoholic moves in with another? A second date. Another says: What do you call dating a newcomer? The thirteenth step. As with most recovery-isms, they are steeped in truth.

Following the campout, I began to spend more and more time with Jess. She had been sober for about 7 months then and, as expected, received no small amount of grief from her sponsor for thirteenth stepping me. We weren't exclusive then, and I was still enjoying a newly found resurgence in the old libido category. Not that I was tramping around or anything, but before things got too serious with Jess I hung out once or twice with another girl named Jess. When I would talk to JM about things, it got complicated. I ended up having to call them Jess #1 and Jess #2. After double booking myself once, I realized that I was hurting Jess #1's feelings. It caused me to analyze what it was that I wanted. What I wanted was Jess #1. Once that decision was made, I concentrated on being with Jess (#1).

The next few months were a blur of activity. My dad was moving in with someone and getting rid of the apartment. At this point I could have probably moved in with Jess, but I still wasn't too sure if things would work out. JM was getting an apartment with his step dad and asked if I wanted to room with them. I decided I did and we moved my stuff one night. I didn't own a bed or anything, so moving was easy. I stayed exactly 1 night in the apartment. For the rest of our 6 month lease I stayed with Jess. After about a month, I decided the polite thing to do was to pay rent to Jess for living with her. So for 6 months I payed rent at 2 places. I got a cell phone. I still didn't have a car, but Jess was a saint and thanks to our work schedules I was able to get a ride to work with her in the mornings. JM would pick me up after work and we'd go catch meetings. I fell into a rhythm and weeks passed.

One day in October, Jess and I were driving to go to dinner with a couple of my cousins and their husbands. I was in the passenger seat reaching down by my feet for a book of cd's when we crashed into a car that had stopped in the middle of the road. We weren't going that fast, maybe thirty miles an hour, but my face was right next to the airbag when it went off. My face was swollen and bleeding and I was in shock a little bit. Somebody called an ambulance and I found myself in a hospital again. They did some xrays, gave me a prescription for pain pills and sent me on my way. This event was important for 2 reasons: one is that I was later to receive an insurance settlement that allowed me to get a car. Two, and more importantly, I was to learn that like cocaine and alcohol before it, I was incapable of using pills like a normal person.

I didn't drink right away. I used the pills like they were prescribed, but found myself looking at the clock to see if 4 hours had gone by yet. I craved those pills like mad. The anxiety I felt never completely subsided. At the end of October we moved from her apartment to a house near the avenues. By then the pills were all gone, but I was still not quite right. I went to meetings, but it was more like I was doing it to check something off of a list. Went to a meeting. Check. Called my sponsor. Check. The desire to improve myself was not there. As November turned into December, I stopped going to meetings. I did pick up a few 6 month chips around the middle of December, but for the next month I didn't hit a single meeting. I told myself I felt fine, but I was fundamentally off. The insurance company from the wreck paid me off and I used the money to buy a cheap car. I started going back to meetings in January, but a month later I found myself with a pretty bad cold.

At meetings you hear people warn against certain types of medicines. Pain pills, Sudafed, even cough medicines. These types of medicines often have addictive substances in them. To the average guy they get sick and buy a bottle of Ny-Quil. They take some for a night or two and then have half a bottle that sits there until it expires and then gets thrown out. To the alcoholic, they buy a bottle. Maybe they take a dose one night. But then the craving sets in and they finish the whole bottle. Not always, but just enough to cause most recovering alcoholics to avoid those types of medicines.

I woke up that morning knowing I needed something to get through the day. I went into the store looking for something without alcohol. I found some Robitussin and bought it. I took it out the car and dosed up. I drove off to work, but by the time I hit work I knew I had made a mistake. I was stoned something fierce. I managed to get through the day, reloading on cough medicine at lunch (of course). I left work with a purpose. I needed to get drunk. I stopped by a convenience store and bought a twelve pack on the way home. I called Jess and asked her not to come home, but she wouldn't hear it and came home anyways. I started on the beer when it hit me that I could really use a rock or two. I called my mom's boyfriend and he came by with a couple of rocks. I didn't have a proper pipe, so I used his for a rock or two. I must have been acting really weird because he told me he was taking his rocks back and left. I don't remember much of that night. The next day I woke up scared. I was right back at it. I got a ride to the hospital I had detoxed the first time at and checked myself in. They did some blood tests and took me back to the lockdown wing I had spent a week in almost a year ago to the day. A nurse came in and asked me where I had got the PCP. I didn't know what she was talking about. She told me they had found PCP in my system. That might have explained my lack of memory of the night before. The 24 hour tally included 1 bottle of Robitussin, about 10 beers, 2 rocks of coke laced with PCP, and an entrance into my third hospital. I was not getting this whole staying sober business.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Campout (Requiem 5)

Following the relapse, I continued going to meetings. I started hanging out with more people in recovery, and before I knew it I had a regular group of friends. I related quite a bit to one friend in particular: JM. He, too, had used with his mother. He had also gone through treatment at the same place I had. We would drive around and talk about some of the things that we had done in active addiction (translation: before we sobered up). Not being too far removed from doing these things, sometimes it was hard to talk about them. After you've been sober for a little while you are able to laugh about the things you've done, but at first there is nothing funny about the way of life you led. Ever since we first sobered up, we had been hearing about a campout that was supposed to be like sober Woodstock. We decided to go to it. I had been sober about 30 days by then. When the Friday came, we packed up tents, sleeping bags, and stopped by the store to buy some food. We took his red truck and hit the road.

By the time we got there it was dark, but we could see it was going to live up to the hype. There was a pavillion near the entrance to the campground covered by a roof with a stage at one end. A band was playing and people were dancing. We drove around in the dark until we found a spot to set up our tents. We got everything set up and went up by the band. I recognized some of the people from meetings I'd been to. We hung out that night and went to sleep, excited at the prospect of a few days to enjoy the unknown. When I woke up, it was like waking up on a different planet. Because it was dark when we arrived the night before, I'd missed the surroundings. We were in a valley surrounded by mountains. A little ways from the pavillion there was a river with a bridge over it. The beauty was awe inspiring. There were tents everywhere. Behind the covered area, there were rudimentary cabins. Although it couldn't have been past 8:00 in the morning, people were already up drinking coffee and talking amongst themselves in small groups throughout the campsite. When everyone was up, we made some breakfast and set out to see the campground. During the rest of the day, there were contests like tug-of-war and arm wrestling contests. There was a stable of horses near the pavillion and we'd see people riding horses across the river to the trail. To someone who had spent the previous few years drinking and using drugs all the time, it was enough to make you a kid again. We passed the day leisurely laying around in the sun, enjoying being alive and sober. At night there was a 'sobriety countdown'. Almost everyone there went up to the pavillion for it. There was an announcer who started it saying "50 years. 49 years. 48 years...." When the announcer said your amount of sobriety, you would stand up to a round of applause. There were people on the sides counting the hands. Here is the cool thing: the less time sober people had, the louder the applause so that by the time somebody stood up with one day sober everybody was on their feet and the noise was deafening. The newest comer to sobriety was then invited to the stage to be presented with a book from the person with the most sobriety. It was a very humbling experience and one that I can't really relate to anything outside of recovery.

There are a few suggestions made to newcomers to recovery. One of which is to avoid any major decisions for the first year of sobriety.( i.e. divorce, quitting a job, moving to another state, etc) Another is to abstain from romantic relationships during the first year. The reason is that in general, we are looking for anything that will help us feel better. Relationships do that at first. The problem is that when we feel good, we don't have a lot of drive to improve ourselves and learn to live sober. By the time we hit bottom we aren't very good at relationships, so there will usually come a time when those good feelings will go away. If we haven't been working on learning to live sober, we're going to put ourselves in a position where we feel badly and want to feel good again. You can do this in recovery, but it's a slower process than we alcoholics want. We know exactly how to feel good again fast: a drink. It doesn't always happen this way, but it happens enough that many people tell newcomers to avoid romance like the plague for the first year. Some of us are better listeners than others....

After the countdown, there was a talent show and after that a dance. During the dance I ran into a girl I had seen at a few meetings. I asked her to dance. After that we starting chatting. Long after the dance was over, she mentioned she was going to catch hell from her sponsor (with whom she was sharing a tent) for coming back to the tent so late. I caught her drift and took my cue: "No problem, I've got extra room in mine...." And so it began.