Saturday, February 23, 2013

Whaddya In For?

February 21, 2008

Above, a beautiful photograph of Diversey Harbor overlooking the Chicago skyline. That's where I *thought* I was going. Harborview Recovery Center in St. Joseph's Hospital in Lincoln Park. I was still married, though separated for a year, and had a great Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plan, so money wasn't an issue.

All I knew was that I needed to stop drinking as much as I was drinking, or else face the brutal fact my doctor laid out that the pace I was running would kill me in a few months. Yes, I was an alcoholic, having spent (in drinking years, anyway) only a few years drinking to the point where it was a daily necessity rather than in casual fashion, uncontrollable. Chris and I had been dating only a couple of months at that time, and I told him on the phone, during an argument over wine I stole from his apartment, that I needed to go away.

Harborview under the Resurrection Medical corporation was one choice. The other was Parkside Recovery in Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, where I live (where Elton John did his rehab). I wanted to be far enough away from home where it'd be nearly impossibly for me to get home on my own, so after spending the entire night drinking, I managed to get my ex-husband to drive me downtown after he took my son to school, whom I didn't know if I'd see in a week, or a month, or longer.

I was advised by a social worker to show up to the ER as drunk as possible (and I was) and declare that I was a danger to myself and others to ensure I would be admitted to the recovery center. Craig and I spent the next 10 hours in a partitioned cubicle in the St. Joe's ER, when the delirium tremens started to kick in, I was a shaking, nervous mess and had to be sedated with Ativan to stop me from walking out of the curtain 20 times to see when they planned on taking care of me. I'd gone through 2 banana bag IV's. Turned out, I had to be competent and sober enough to agree to the admission, according to the intake coordinator, which I wasn't deemed until about 5pm that night. (My blood alcohol lever was in the stratosphere.) 

It was winter, so the above view outside Harborview is a little more bleak, but still overlooked the lake. It wasn't until I was taken to my room that I grew immediately fearful. It didn't look like Harborview did on its web page. What *did* it look like? A hospital mental health ward. An insane asylum. 

And it is, my friends, exactly what it was. I don't know if the homicidal and suicidal proclamation (neither of which were true, though I was an active self-harmer (cutter) at the time) were what led to the commission to the ward under the diagnosis of comorbidity or dual-diagnosis, two terms for the same thing: having mental illness and a substance abuse problem at the same time. 

After copying important phone numbers out of my cell, which wasn't allowed in the ward, I compiled the friends I wanted to contact during my assigned telephone time. I had to hand over the laces of my running shoes for fear I'd try to strangle myself with them. My mom scrambled to buy me a few track suits, as zippers were allowed but drawstrings not. I handed over more of my belongings than I remember, but I do remember being allowed to keep my Curious George, thank God.

I'd spend the next 10 days or so detoxing from the booze, warding off the withdrawal with a lot of Librium, Campral and Antabuse, some of which made me very sleepy, but a ton of sleep is not part of a treatment plan in the psych ward. There was breakfast at around 6-7am, followed by 3 hours of intense group therapy, then lunch, more therapy, and finally dinner and free time. We also had nightly homework for group therapy, but I'm pretty sure I was the only one who vigilantly did the assignments. If didn't take a genius to realize that the more you complied, the more you participated, the more you took charge of your own recovery, the sooner you might be allowed to go home.

Group therapy was very depressing, given the dozen or so patients were uniformly suicidal but not otherwise dangerous over on our east side locked partition. People would compete to see how many more cutting scars we all had, but never once did I say I'd rather be dead. The dangerous psychos were on the west side, also locked, and they kept all of the exercise equipment over there, so I couldn't work out.

As I've said in previous blogs, the other patients were all pretty weird, including my first roommate who took a pee in the garbage can next to my bed my first night there, and her catatonic follow up roommate was just dazed and confused the whole time. I met with my son and Craig in a locked, supervised visiting room, not unlike jail. Luke had recently turned 8, and I can't imagine what he thought I was doing in that crazy hospital. I seem to recall my ex-boyfriend visiting me in perhaps the cafeteria (?) one evening and my mom came to see me in my room (with the "safe" clothes). And also as previously discussed, yes, trays of food are thrown, patients throw fits of rage or ill-control and are tethered down and sedated, and bedlam frequently ensues.

There were people I witnessed and things I saw in the psych ward, where I, at the time, though bipolar, was the sanest of the lot, which is frightening. I befriended a few people, all of whom had been in the psych ward for MONTHS.  Some patients were plain-clothed like me. Still others wore hospital gowns, I believe quite frankly, that a lot of them lived on the streets and had nowhere else to go. I had a child to raise and I was stable, so I was granted a "Get Out Free" card. A clusterfuck of problems prevented me from doing much outpatient rehab, and I stayed sober on my own for over 4 years (the NyQuil incident notwithstanding). Minor detours have soiled my 5 years of attempted sobriety, but I worked damn hard to still be here.

Thus was my time in alcohol "rehab." That was my time in the "loony bin."

February 21, 2013

In my professional community, to have done a stint in rehab is the rule over the exception (with clients anyway). Across the board, if you are over 40 and say you've been to rehab (whether that's once, twice or 34 times), nobody gasps or chastises. Rehab is so common it's about the equivalent of having insanity endured taking your child to Chuck E. Cheese. And only for a week and a half? Most of my colleagues wonder doubt whether or not I'm even an alcoholic, which I am, at present, not so sure about myself anymore. But am I bipolar? OMG, yes.I'm going to get this for my manic/depressive mood swings:

We've come a long way in the area of addiction medicine and counseling psychology since I was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital 5 years ago (yesterday). At school, the vast majority only know what a psych ward is like because they read about them in undergrad textbooks. Being a patient in one is totally different. Asked many times if any of us have been patients in a psychiatric ward, I'm the sole hand-raiser. The follow-up question is always "voluntary or involuntary." "Involuntary," I say, which is true, because I wanted to go to Harborview instead. Such a statement rises me to the highest level of wisdom and I'm like the Yoda over there.

It was neither fun nor enjoyable but highly educational at St. Joe's, and cemented my idea to become a psychologist specializing in substance abuse or dual diagnosis patients myself. It's sad, scary and freakish. Rehab is an experience I'd never trade but don't necessarily plan to repeat, unless I'm working in one, during which I'll probably lose what precious is left of my gray matter.

Seeing it just recently, I'm enamored by and drawn to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."  As you know, some things have changed for the better, and some things are still held by strict ethical codes of conduct as determined by the American Counseling Association, just as they religiously followed in the 1960's, during the time span the film covers. I don't have a lot of compelling  evidence these days to see how rituals of group therapy or addiction therapy are run (I'm still a grad student!) but I'm taking group psychotherapy this semester. I feel odd there, mostly because it's during the awkward pauses and silences (even if they're deliberate) I want to insert something--anything--to alleviate the mood. Usually, we're sitting in a circle and smack dab in the middle is a 4-outlet metal electrical doo-hickey. It'd be unusual for me NOT to point out the fact that I'm staring at it most of the time.

When I was in therapy as an inpatient, I was calm, happy and restlessly depressed (all at once) but had my wits about me, unlike the rest and felt 10 times more recovered that any of those other poor souls when I left. This montage of "Cuckoo's Nest" along the song along to a song by Gary Jules, is entitled "Mad World." This clip is heartbreaking, funny, and humanizes the patients versus the robotic nurse amazingly.

Never going back. (I did eventually get my shoelaces back.)

I have to give a shout out to who have recommended "Rhythms" as being a topical and mental health-related site, which in a roundabout way, it is, if one can meander through my complicated personal life to eek out what's socially relevant. To "Stand Up for Mental Health," as I do, visit:


Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Thanks f or posting.

CONGRATS also -- you have come so far!

~Miss Thang II

Andrea Miklasz said...

I'm surprised they let us have pens/pencils on which to write. Surely we could've punctured our lungs or something. Man, that's a scary place to be.