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A Searching Moral Inventory…

Posted Sep 11 2009 12:00am

The emergency room is never a good time.  Yes, I’ve mentioned that fact before, but the last time I was there I at least got copious amounts of opiates to ease the pain.  This time was different, and before I get too deeply into it, I know I’ve been taking way too long between posts.  I hate those dicks who start up a blog and then post less and less until you never hear from them again.  But I have a good excuse!  I’m not one to revel in drama or self pity, so you can take it to the bank when I say everything I’m about to write is 100% truthful, and the only reason I’m sharing it is because I’d have to be a real asshole to gloss over it or make a joke about it….especially when you consider the fact that this blog was created as a way to share the nitty-gritty about my addictive personality and everything that goes along with it.  And to make up for my absence I promise you the longest post I’ve ever written,  full of adventure and intrigue….

So where was I?  Oh yeah, emergency room.  Oh boy.  Whenever I’ve gone there in the past it’s pretty much a normal exam room with all of the normal tools of the trade strewn about the room….a somewhat comfy bed, etc.  Not THIS exam room. Not THIS time.  I didn’t even know they had psych/high risk rooms……but sure as hell, they do.  And I sat in that fucker with my dad for something like three or four hours before I was admitted.  Seriously…..the TV is behind plexi-glass, there are no sheets, no pillowcases (no pillows now that I think about it), the bed is a slab, all of the drawers and shelves are locked shut, there is no sink, no open outlets, and the nurse who checks up on you and takes your blood is a huge black man who could break you in half with one swat.  At some point a social worker came in to talk to me, and from what I can remember he basically asked the same question in a dozen different ways….”do you want to kill yourself or anyone else?”…..in order to determine (once your blood work came back and let them know you AREN’T going home anytime soon) WHICH side of the ominous “sixth floor” you’ll be checked in to….the “bat shit crazy/no shoe laces” north side or the “just keep ‘em from dying from withdrawal seizures” south side.  I was a south sider….no matter how bad my life has gotten, I’d never ever kill myself, and as far as killing anyone else….most people just don’t interest me enough to give them that level of attention or emotion.

So what got me to the emergency room, you ask?  If you are really asking that question, you either haven’t read much of this blog or you’ve never spent much time with me.  I have what scientists call a bit of a problem with alcohol.  To put a finer point on it, I’m an alcoholic.  I’m not usually one for such finite labels, but this shoe fits. Big time.  Long story short, everything came to a head about two months ago when I began what would end up being my last big bender…..about seven days of drinking around two fifths of bourbon per day and not eating any solid foods.  When that Sunday evening rolled around and by some miracle I was still getting around under my own power, I knew my choices of where to go from there were limited; I had to either A) detox on my own at home….which I’d done before after just a few days of heavy drinking, and those experiences were bad enough to let me know that I could NOT do it after a week of drinking and not eating, B) keep on drinking in order to “stay well”….because after the first couple of days you aren’t doing it for fun, you’re doing it to keep from getting sick, or finally C) surrender, call someone and get them to drive me to the emergency room where I could get the help I needed.   So I took what was behind door C and made one bastard of a hard call to my mother and told her what was up.  Shortly after that, my dad came over to pick me up and drive me to the hospital.  He was surprisingly cool about the whole thing, and I know it had to be rough to see me in that condition….I’m pretty sure I was drinking up until the point when he pulled in the driveway, and when they finally took my blood several hours later I was still registering a respectable .30 blood alcohol content.  The journey between my bariatric surgery and that ride to the hospital is something that will be chronicled in the months to come, but things got worse and worse over the past year or so.  I’d try to stop drinking here and there, but to no avail…I’d always pick it back up and every time I did I’d push the envelope even further.  The fact that I was one hell of a highly functioning alcoholic didn’t help matters….I managed my job and my relationships.  I was able to shield my wife from the darkest moments because she was on the other side of the country from me most of the time.  But man, when I finally crashed, I crashed hard.  I’m just glad when I finally found that bottom that is constantly mentioned in AA meetings, I was lucid enough to reach out for help.  A lot of people aren’t that lucky, and I met many of them during my four days in the Addiction Recovery Unit.

Oh the ARU…..it seems like it was such a long time ago.  I don’t remember going from the ER upstairs to the ARU, but I think my dad was able to get out of there before the sickness started to set in.  That shit would not be cool to see, and I figured I’d be locked in a padded room while I shook uncontrollably and shit and pissed myself for a couple of days, but no…..there is actually a very humane protocol when it comes to dealing with addicts.  And I have to say, I was lucky enough to score a room at what has GOT to be the Waldorf Astoria of hospital ARU’s….I’m too big of a pussy for social detox.  It was probably around midnight when I finally got upstairs to my room, and the nurse was a sweet older lady who started pumping me full of the drugs.  I was still completely shitfaced, and joked about how they were going to get me off of the booze by getting me high on drugs.  And sure, they were giving me some good old fashioned benzo’s with a battery of other stuff, but reality set in when she told me “most of this is anti-seizure medication, because without that you could die”.  Most of what went on that first night is pretty spotty in my memory, but I remember THAT. 

So they put me out cold, which was the most merciful thing they could do.  And when I woke up the next morning I was not in a good way.  They kind of leave you alone that first day….they let you know when the meals are being served and when the different group meetings are starting, but the first day folks REALLY stick out.  The worst hangover you could ever imagine having is like a slight headache compared to the physical and mental trauma of a real detox….even with the drugs.  I actually made it all the way down the hall when breakfast was being served, but when the nurse put a tray of food in front of me, the nausea overtook me before I got to see whether or not I could actually hold a fork yet.  So I went back nighty night for several hours……waking up for them to give me all kinds of drugs, vitamins, supplements, etc…..they take your vitals CONSTANTLY, and are always peeking in on you when you are sleeping.  Later that day I actually started going to group meetings, because that’s what you do in detox…..you go to groups, morning noon and night, learning and discussing everything to do with your addiction, what it has done to your life, and what you plan to do to NEVER end up back in detox again.  Other than that, there isn’t a hell of a lot to do in the ARU.  One TV down in the lounge, a few games and puzzles, including my favorite “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright”…that was one great puzzle.  The highlight of the day was filling out your menu for the next day over breakfast. Seriously, you look forward to that like Christmas.  When you’re not eating a meal, you’re in group.  And honestly, out of all of the great moments I’ve had in my life, it is hard to think of anything that has made a bigger impression on me than my four days in detox.  The staff in the unit and my counselor/case manager are all world class……she was even insistent on getting in contact with my wife to see what she needed out of all of this (in hindsight, the way I broke it to my wife was pretty funny…I called her up while I was in the ER and opened with “Hi babe, I have got some GREAT news!).  It’s a lifechanging event if you let it be, but it’s really just the bandaid before the real work begins.  I was in hideous physical condition when I came in there, so their job is to just get your physiology evened out enough for you to be safe out in the world….but if you don’t have a plan after you leave there, you’ve got about a 90% chance of relapsing. Usually within the first year. 

Did I mention that there isn’t SHIT to do while you’re in the ARU?  You do meet some interesting people, that’s for sure.  My biggest gripe was that you can’t shave while you’re there.  They have these horrible electric shavers you can use, but no blades. In fact, if you are forward thinking enough to actually pack a bag before your arrival (I wasn’t), everything but your clothing (money, wallet, cell phones, razor, etc.) is locked in a safe.  Then if you want to use your razor, a nurse literally has to stand there watching you while you do it, then the razor goes back in the safe.  I thought they did that just to keep you from committing suicide or something, but in reality it’s so you don’t hurt yourself by accident if you’re still shaky……and that totally makes sense. If I tried to shave that first day I would have looked like a bushman who lived for scarification rituals.  Oh, this brings up a very pertinent and interesting topic…..when you are locked up on the sixth floor, they are NOT fond of you trying to kill yourself.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that they’d hate for that to happen.  So they put in some serious safeguards that I obsessed on the whole time I was there, trying to make an exhaustive list of the counter-measures.  These counter-measures include, but are not limited to: no curtain rod in the closet, no doors on the closet (you could hang yourself on the open door…..and without any doors you have to see the restraint pads and straps they keep in there in case you become a danger to yourself or others), all of the sprinklers on the floor are either flush with the ceiling or have a dome over them so nothing can be tied to them, the brackets holding the shower curtain in place are mounted upside down so that any weight at all would pull the whole rod down, the phone cords on the two phones we had access to were literally about 18 inches long, the shower nozzle only protrudes from the wall about 1/2 inch, and my favorite…..the flourescent light fixtures are outfitted with plexiglass over the bulbs, and the plexiglass lays on top of a metal frame…..so if you actually broke the glass to try and cut yourself it would fall down on the plexiglass and you could never get to it.  Oh, but the most ingenius anti-suicide thing, which also confirms that hanging must be the suicide method of choice……all of those handicap bars that you see in hospital showers and next to toilets that you can grab onto are outfitted with a metal plate that fills all of the space between the wall and the bar.  Basically, you can grip the bar but you couldn’t thread anything around it…….how long did it take them to think of THAT one?  Then ironically, even though we were up on the sixth floor, all of the windows were wide open and had a blinking neon light over them that said “JUMP MOTHERFUCKER!”…..so go figure.  Overall, security is taken very seriously, and for good reason.  In order to call or visit me, I would have had to give you a personalized code you’d use to make it past reception or reach me on one of our two shared phones.  And your ass is locked in up there…..no coming and going whatsoever.  Sure, I went in there completely voluntarily and could have left against medical advice if I insisted, but they wouldn’t make it easy for you.  And if you’re over on the north/psych side, security is even more serious.  I had to have my mom go to my house to pick up some clothes for me so my dad could bring them up, and whenever I start taking recovery lightly I just think of what it must have been like for another human being to walk into the asylum my house had become…..no shit, it was like that last hotel scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  And I don’t say that lightly.  When I got back home I literally had to clean for a couple of hours just to be able to sleep in my own bed.  So when the clothes arrived, of course they go through them before you can even touch  them.  My dad and I laughed that #1- my mom the therapist actually packed a belt for me, and #2- they didn’t take the belt out before handing over my clothes.  Of course, I’d have no place to tie the belt and hang myself, but I still felt like I needed to teach them a lesson by ringing the emergency buzzer in my room, and then when they arrived I’d be standing in the middle of the room with the belt cinched around my neck, holding the other end up in the air….”SEE?  SEE?  You people need to be more VIGILANT!”. 

I’m sure as I continue to work on my recovery, I’ll have more introspective things to share.  I’m actually enjoying being sober, believe it or not. I do have to say that during my time in the ARU, it was probably the first time I ever really cared deeply about people I didn’t even know and did it on my own free will, the Lord wasn’t requiring it of me.  All sorts of drug and alchohol problems, every background you can think of….housewives, teenagers, artists, union pipe fitters, an 84 year old veteran who was at Normandy….but we all had addiction in common.  I am one lucky, lucky sonofabitch…..I’ve got a great wife and family, a house, no job right now but a great resume, and in treatment you meet people who literally have nowhere to go once they leave the hospital.  They’ve either lost their jobs and houses, or they’ve burned every bridge with friends and family, or both.  Some arrive via ambulance, others in handcuffs.  The real wakeup call of the week was the guy who they moved to the room next to mine.  He was in restraints the entire time I was in there, screaming incoherently much of the time, going through the kind of DT’s that required a nurse to be in the room with him 24X7.   You are hopeful for many who seem to really be connecting with the program, and others will definitely have to find another bottom before they get it.  Basically, I honestly learned to love and appreciate people I had just met, because they share the same disease.  And yes, it’s an actual disease. That was something I couldn’t or wouldn’t believe or grasp until learned doctors diagrammed the normal brain vs. the addict brain during one of our groups.  Most people recoil when you compare addiction to diabetes or cancer, but between the science and the fact that I’ve had some substance I’ve been addicted to at every point during my life, I know it’s a disease…..but it’s a disease that tells you it isn’t one, which makes sobriety something you have to work on every day.  So yeah, I’m a for-real, genuine alcoholic because I cannot have one drink without having twenty.  I drink solely for the effect and social drinking is something I cannot relate to or understand.  Say what you want about Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Step methodology, but it has been proven with about seventy years of success, surviving the microscope placed on it by medical science.  The doctors and counselors in the ARU know a hell of a lot more about addiction than I do, and they constantly reminded us of the importance of working the program once we left.  After I was discharged from the ARU, I completed six weeks of intensive outpatient treatment and I began attending regular AA meetings.  I’ve been sober since July 12th, and I know I couldn’t do it without working the steps.  I think I’ve written more than enough about my disdain for organized religion, fundamentalism and group think to give my newfound love of AA some credibility.  I’m not someone who drinks the Kool-Aid, but this thing works.  And the statistics back me up……if you leave treatment and don’t get in some kind of program to stay sober, you have between an 85 and 90 percent chance of relapsing.  Those are just the facts, and when you are a statistic you’re not doing it to be cool or unique…..there is a misery in addiction you can’t really understand until you experience it, and that is why AA is so effective.  Everybody gets it without you having to explain a thing. 

If I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that I’ve been to AA meetings numerous times in the past.  I’d go in and think I could learn enough to either stop drinking or “learn to drink properly”…..and that road ended with me needing anti-seizure meds in a recovery unit.  In the ARU, something finally clicked and I finally connected with the program.  I found my bottom, and even though it could have gotten worse (and if I relapsed I’d end up finding an even worse bottom), I finally felt the powerlessness described in the first step and I found comfort in surrendering to the fact that I’m an alcoholic and letting that burden go.  Accountability to my wife and family, as well as a bunch of other alcoholics are the things that will keep me sober.  TV and the movies do not portray AA or NA very well…..there are definitely tears in meetings, but we don’t all sit around wallowing in story after story about the drinking….we all “get it”, so there’s no reason to tell the stories….we’ve all been there.  It’s about being totally honest with yourself and others, and focusing on a spirituality that promotes personal growth.  I wish more churches functioned like AA, it would be incredible.  We alcoholics don’t drink because we are weak or flawed, lack character or morals…. it’s a disease, and saying that isn’t a way of denying responsibility for our actions or an excuse to misbehave or be unique snowflakes, or absolve ourselves of the guilt we have over what we’ve done to others and to ourselves…even non-alcoholics could benefit from the tenets of the program, everyone has SOMETHING they need to work on.  Have I hurt people and lied to them because of my drinking?  Am I ashamed of myself and the way I kept it from my wife, and how I made her worry about me?  Absolutely, and when it comes time to deal with the rest of the 12 steps, I’ll be on solid enough footing to handle things like making amends.  It’s like any other group of people I’ve written about….once you are face to face with someone who belongs to a group you hate or marginalize based solely on what you see as their one defining characteristic, and you are forced to think of them as a human being, your perspective begins to change drastically and your world view begins to shift a little….unless they just happen to be a real asshole, or more likely, unless YOU just happen to be a real asshole.  If you could sit in on a detox group meeting and listen to the stories….diverse but strangely identical, you’d come to the conclusion that these are basically good people who are sick and need help.  People in recovery are some of the most honest and self realized people you will ever meet…..we know that denial is one hell of a tool that can keep you drunk or resentful, and you are only as sick as your darkest secrets.

So life is good, it is manageable again.  My wife is living with me here in KC, she just found a job and I’m looking for one.  And I love working the program.  Alcoholics Anonymous is the thing that is going to keep me sober.  I’m an alcoholic for life, I can’t ever have a drink, and that’s okay.  I don’t have to think about not drinking for a month, a year or a decade, I just have to work on today.  I have a great sponsor, and I’ll spend Friday night with my wife down at the AA hall enjoying a potluck dinner with a bunch of recovering drunks….and I will proudly receive my sixty day chip.  When was the last time I went sixty days without a drink?  Probably when I was in ministry, but then I was just killing myself with food.  Sure, if Jerry from a year ago got into a time machine and showed up on my doorstep, he’d kick the shit out of me for being such a boring sap.  But the hell with all that…..I’ll get up early Saturday morning hangover free to go to the market and my favorite meeting of the week at 8am.  I’ll be productive, out from under all of the secrets, lies and guilt, and at midnight every night the sobriety clock starts over again……it can only happen one day at a time.  And with that I’ll pass.

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