Wednesday, January 4, 2012

An Old Blog: Thoughts on 3 Years Sober, As I Approach Year 4...

Wrote this as a note on Facebook before I reactivated my Blogger account, my thoughts on 3 years' worth of sobriety. I'll have 4 years under my belt in February. Wow, does Chris get a glowing recommendation in this blog:

Even given my super-annyoing alcoholic memory loss and cognitive dysfunction, I remember the day I checked myself into rehab vividly. After spending the night getting dead drunk (almost literally), with Luke sleeping in his room, I was talking to Christopher on the phone, slurring my words more and more as the night wore on. Chris was concerned because expensive bottles of wine were missing from his apartment, which I had stolen and consumed, as well as his whole bottles of scotch and tequila he's brought over to my apartment. He questioned me about them. "Do you think you have a drinking problem, Andrea?" he asked me.

Now, keep in mind, I'd been researching rehab facilities for a while, since my doctor gave me the grave news that my liver was failing and I had only months left to live if I continued to drink. I had my heart set on Eric Clapton's Crossroads Recovery Center in Antigua. Lofty ambition, but at least I recognized that I needed to go get help.

"You want the truth, Christopher?" I asked. He said yes. "The truth is I'm a raging alcoholic and I need to go away."

Aghast and speechless, Christopher paused and said "Ok." I meant "I need to go away NOW."

His sister worked for Resurrection Health Care at the time, in social work, and had connections to good rehab facilities in the Chicago area. Two were suggested to me: Parkside at Lutheran General in Park Ridge (where Elton John got sober!) and St. Joseph's hospital downtown. I decided the next morning on St. Joe's, since I thought a treatment facility in Park Ridge was too close to home and thereby offered too great a chance for me to walk out the door and leave.

Luke awakened and had to be taken to school. I stayed up all night getting more and more drunk, so Craig came to take him to school. I bawled as I kissed Luke goodbye, not knowing how long it'd be until I'd see him again. I believe we told him that I was going away to a hospital to get better because I was very sick, and he was frantic.

I didn't give Craig a choice as to what to do with his day on 2/21/08. "You're driving me to rehab," I told him. He was reluctuant and annoyed that I assumed he'd help me out, as Chris had to be at work, but he did. One thing I will say for my ex-husband, he's got my back when I need him the most. He always has, for which I'm blessed.

I was advised to continue to drink that morning, so that I purposely showed up at rehab incoherent and thereby had a greater chance of being admitted. Craig drove me downtown to St. Joe's and we got to the ER. I told the triage nurse I was a danger to myself and others and needed to be admitted for alcohol treatment. I was too drunk to coherently sign myself in, so I was put on a couple of banana bag IV's (which they give out to drunks, which are loaded with potassium and nutrients), mildly sedated (because I was going into DT's and shaking and wandering around) and there we waited. By about 5pm, I think, I was sober enough to check in, Craig left, and Chris came to stay with me. (We'd only been dating a couple of months at that point--Lord only knows what went through his mind wondering what he'd gotten himself into.)

There were no beds left on the substance abuse floor, so I was admitted to the psychiatric ward. The "safe side," the East side, as it were, which was still filled with loonies, but the less violent ones. My roommate was an old lady alcoholic, out of her mind, who got up during the first night and urinated in the garbage can next to my bed. "Where was I and what was I doing?" I thought. The next morning, though doped up on Librium to ward off the DT's, I demanded a new roommate, and got one.

The psych ward was scary. They took away my cell phone, but let me have a sheet of paper with important phone numbers on it for when I was allowed time to use the phone. They took away my shoelaces for fear I'd try and kill myself with them. The patients in the cafeteria routinely threw trays of food at one another and the staff, and were all acutely less stable than I was. I was ready to get to work and get the hell out of there.

I immediately threw myself into the program at rehab--I did the homework, attended all the therapy sessions, and encouraged my new roommate to do the same. She was an Asian lady, in her 40's, also in alcohol detox, and refused to go to therapy when we were scheduled. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to get her to go to therapy. She just lied in her bed half asleep all day.

In therapy, I admitted that I was also a cutter, and showed the group my arm scars. This was all long before I was diagnosed and medicated for bipolar disorder. I admitted that I'd been addicted to narcotics in the past, and was labeled a "dual-diagnosis" patient.

In one memorable therapy session, the counselor went around the room and asked us each how we were doing that day. Each patient lamented "I want to die," "I just want to kill myself," "I have no hope." They got around to me, and I remember exclaiming "I feel FINE. I'm GREAT." I took to sobriety really quickly, though it could've been the Librium talking. They started me on Antabuse (the drug you take where you can get fatally ill IF you drink on it) and Campral (to ward off cravings for alcohol).

They had exercise equipment on the floor, but it was on the West side of the psych ward. I asked if I could go and use it and was told, "No, you don't want to go over there. The really dangerous patients are there and you could get hurt." Uh, OK. Nevermind that, then. I jotted down ideas and feelings on paper, which I think I have in my storage unit somewhere, which I'd love to read someday. My incoherent blabber about rehab.

My mom came to visit me, and in retrospect, said I looked like a mess. She brought me more clothes--ones without strings, zippers, anything I could use to harm myself, not that I planned on it. I was there to get well, after all. Chris came to visit me and brought me a gaggle of magazines to keep me occupied, but told me frankly that he wasn't sure he could be in a relationship with an alcoholic, which made me sad, but I understood. (Obviously, he stuck around, for which I'm grateful.) A few days later, Craig brought Luke for a visit, which had to be freakishly scary and strange for an 8-year old. Luke was honestly explained why I was in the hospital, that I was addicted to drinking, which for his age, he managed to process and absorb.

I asked the psychiatrist when I could go home. "Tomorrow?" I'd been there a week. "Yes, tomorrow you can go home." The therapist in charge of my case encouragingly told me that he thought I had about a 90% chance of making it. They say statistically, after all, that 8 out of 10 alcoholics relapse within the first year. I prayed in therapy to be one of the 2 that wouldn't. And three years into it, I haven't.

Through a gaggle of strange events, I never completed the outpatient rehab I was supposed to for the following 30 days, yet I remained sober. I stayed dry for the next year and a half on my own, only coming to AA after trying to set up a coffee catch up with my now-sober ex-boyfriend, Art, who said the only way I was going to get to see him was if I went to an AA meeting. So I went to one at the First Step House in Des Plaines, was the only woman there, and felt terribly uncomfortable. But I thank Art to this day, for it was he who got me involved with AA and I never looked back.

I treasure my time at AA now. It's been one of the best tools that has helped me with maintaining my sobriety. It was there I learned that I didnt' get and stay sober by my own strength and accord, though I did a lot of hard work. It was by the grace of God, to whom I should be very, very thankful. And I am. The felllowship at AA has forged some of the closest bonds I've had with people my whole life. We all share a common problem, and our stories are inspiring and provoking.

Had it not been for the support and safety of people like my mom, who took us in when we lost our apartment, and Chris, who provided for me a continuously safe haven, and Steven, who always called me his "little soldier," and all of you countless friends who've lended your shoulders, your strength and your support to me the last 3 years, I wouldn't be here today.

I won't lie to you. The urge to drink is still there. I long for the relaxing glass of wine with dinner, the compulsion to get drunk when I'm depressed or anxiety-ridden. But I manage those cravings, one day at a time. Every day, I choose not to pick up a drink. I am open and honest with my family and friends and AA buddies when those feelings creep up. They're normal and likely won't ever go away. I'm an alcoholic. I'll always be an alcoholic. But I'm sober. I continuously choose to stay sober.

Even given my long standing complications from drinking--my failed pancreas, my memory loss-I'm still grateful. I wouldn't change a single day. It was God's plan to have me be an alcoholic. It's not "my dad's fault," as my mom keeps saying. It's not my fault either. It's what needed to happen in order for me to become the amazing person I am today. It's what will allow me to inspire others (friends, patients) on their journeys towards sobriety and cleanliness. Addiction and substance abuse counseling is my life's calling. I want to help people the way I was helped.

For that, for each day I don't drink, I'm grateful. For the last 1,095 days I've chosen not to drink. Shazam!

No comments: