First published in short story format at Veronica Literary Magazine
Just as I would have loved to have told you that I walked away from my job and into the helping hands of the medical establishment, I would love to tell you that ‘rehab’ as we love to call it, was the answer I had been seeking.
I spent the first three of four days just being miserable. Throwing up, barely able to hold up my throbbing head, consumed with a guilt and misery and hatred for my own life.
Pretty much the same as any other few days without a fix.
Then the talking started. . . .
Sitting in a group of similarly miserable people, going through the steps (no surprise here, there were twelve of them), talking about what dreadful people we were, being told that if we’d just accept God – or whatever other higher being we wanted to choose – into our lives, everything would sort itself out.
I expect there are as many theories about addiction and its treatment as there are addicts out there. The common thread that what we are is shameful and best kept anonymous isn’t a great help to any of us, but, as it was then so it is now and that’s not what I’m here to chat about.
Personally, then as now, I had my doubts that God was really the cure for what was ailing me. Then, as now, I also wondered if I was really that bad a person. Or if going around telling people about all the horrible (or even just kind of dumb) things I had done while under the influence was really going to help me that much. I also sort of doubted that making amends to people who hadn’t really been that nice to me was quite fair. Or helpful. In fact, most of it felt like a way of keeping me in my place. Sort of like churches tell you to follow blindly and not ask questions and fit into this box or that box and trust that everything’s going to be great after you die.
But, what I did have faith in was getting the gunk out of my system. I had, in truth, mentioned to a few trusted people – yes, there had been a few people I had trusted – over the years that maybe a few weeks locked up away from the rest of the world would be good for me. I was repeatedly told this was stupid. They said it, so I believed it.
Now, though, I was here. Vindicated, in a sense, because after those first few days I did feel it starting to work. The gunk was making its way out. I could feel that.
I thought most of the conversations and discussions were a bit of nonsense. There was, as I also noticed in the Big A meetings we were forced to during our ‘recovery’, a sort of prurient interest in hearing the sordid details of the addict’s life. Not to mention a pressure to embellish a bit, to ensure your story was as good as the guy’s before. You wouldn’t want to chime in with a boring recounting of how you drank yourself to sleep and then went to work. No; sex, pain, humiliation, all of these were necessary to garner the approval of your fellow inmates and wardens.
I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t admit it was, in fact, helpful to know there were other people out there like me. People who had never really fit in. People who were racked with emotional and physical anxiety at the thought of having to interact with other people. People who also knew what it was like to deliver a carefully constructed sentence to have it met with blank, unrecognising stares. People who could not, in truth, function, without something to soothe the constant background noise.
There is, I admit, I certain security in knowing you’re not the only freak out there.
It’s funny, though, funny odd funny, not funny ha-ha funny to paraphrase Holden Caulfield, that even there, even in rehab, even amongst my people, I was a bit invisible. A bit on the fringes. A bit unseen. I wasn’t, apparently, a bad case. This was my first trip, I suppose, not yet a failure or a repeat visitor. It was only alcohol. I hadn’t pimped myself out for smack. I hadn’t almost killed myself by snorting every bit of my remaining coke on the train to this camp. Just a bog standard drunk in for her first visit. Not really worth much time or energy.
I don’t know if they really just expected me to be back and figured they’d spend more time on me next time or if maybe I am just a little bit invisible. I don’t know.
What I do know is that when I left, after the proverbial 28 days, they patted me on the back, they told me my life would be grand . . . one day at a time . . . meetings, meetings, meetings . . . etc., etc., etc.
Honestly, I don’t think they didn’t care. For the most part, this is one of those things that’s been left for a bunch of broken people to work within a broken system to try to help another bunch of broken people.
I think their back patting and well wishes were genuine enough, they just didn’t expect it work.
For my part, I left. I never went to another meeting. I never had another drink.
Congratulations!, you might say. Well done!, you’d say. Good for you!, you’d think.
Sure. Okay. I’m no longer intent on a slow road to death.
I also don’t have any help to get me out the door.
Nobody tells you that once you give up your assistance, you won’t be able to do certain things. That certain things won’t feel the same. That your brain won’t work in certain ways ever again.
And, the anxiety doesn’t go away. Not at all. You just have to deal with being a freak. Deal with having people give you funny looks or speak to you as if you’re a bit defective (which, in fact, I suppose you are).
I couldn’t write any more. It just wouldn’t happen. I’d sit in front of a screen or sit with a notebook and pen. Nothing. No words. No thoughts. No nothing.
I also couldn’t fuck. I had loved fucking. Had, in fact, been very good at it. Not now. Not quite frigid, but not far off.
It wasn’t just the writing – so much a part of my livelihood – or the fucking – a huge part of my leisure time. It was moving at all that changed. With my crutch, my lubrication, my aide, I had managed a fairly fluid way of navigating the city streets, dodging and weaving, but not being particularly upset if I made a bit of contact with another mover. Now. Now I was shrunk into myself. All of those years of being invisible. Suddenly I was all too aware of my visibility, or potential visibility. I literally pulled myself into myself. Since the years of childhood obesity, I had been small, huge in my own mind, but, in fact, quite a small person. Now, I felt like a behemoth. I couldn’t make myself small enough. My shoulders, my back, my neck still tense and pain me at the thought of how tightly I wound myself into nothingness.
Of course, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. It’s all a bit of boo hoo me, isn’t it. Water under the bridge, more or less. Clearly now, I’m coping. I’m not dead yet and it’s been over a decade. Woo hoo. Good for me.
But, just so you know, that’s how it was.