Figuring out the step outline for a screenplay I started damn near two months ago brought me to tears, so I decided to write this instead. Today is March 3rd, which as everyone (almost no one) knows, my sobriety “birthday” is in 4 days. That means that five years ago today I was drunk in my house making plans to go to rehab. I was probably packing clothes, toiletries and such. I remember I watched 28 Days before I left, you know, for preparation. I also distinctly remember, as crazy as this sounds, dancing around my house because I was beyond relieved that I was finally going to get some help. Some people don’t want to get sober when they get sober. That’s not my story. By the time I put in a call to a fancy rehab place, I was done with the hell on earth I had been living in. What makes that hell so much more unbearable is that there is practically nothing you can do on your own to get yourself out of it. Sure you can go to treatment or to AA, but you can’t do things like buy a set of CDs titled, “Transform Your Life”, listen to them and all of a sudden stop drinking. Not for people like me at least. I’m an alcoholic to the core, which means I was born with the disease of alcoholism. This is a much different reality than that of the “heavy drinker”. The line between the two gets blurry, but I know when I made the call to ask if this place had a bed for me to detox in, I had moved miles beyond the realm of heavy drinking, hard partying and was in a much deeper mess than some bogus CD set could get me out of.
So what’s the big deal?
As of today, I’ve gone 1,822 days without putting alcohol in my body. At some point before I got sober I had resigned myself to drinking in my house because I’m a blackout drinker. I’m also an angry, violent blackout drinker who goes nuckin futs when I drink around other people. There’s some kind of internal, primal switch that flips somewhere between the eighth and the eighteenth drink. I don’t have control over it, so it just made sense to drink alone because God help us all, I’m not going to QUIT DRINKING ALL TOGETHER. Are you out of your mind? I’d wake up in the morning and walk through the house to survey the damage. “Damn, I broke that? I liked that wine rack.” “I smashed that picture throwing it at your head? I fought you all night long?” How do you say sorry for that? At some point I just stopped saying sorry because I knew it would happen again. I’ll quit tomorrow – that was my motto.
Anyway, alcohol quit being as effective so I started mixing it with…this is lame….with cough syrup and little pills I’d find here and there. Not only does Robitussin contain alcohol, it has Dextromethorphan in it, which when taken in large doses causes hallucinations. So here I am, twenty-two years old, drinking a case of Michelob Ultra (because it’s the runner’s beer and I don’t want to get fat or anything) and entire bottles of Robitussin, dreaming of the day I “make it” and slowly dying all at the same time. It dawned on me that this might be dangerous. Second to that thought was, “Oh my God, I’m going to die in my house from an overdose on booze and Robitussin. How would you even write that in an obituary?” And I knew I wanted to do something big with my life, but I couldn’t get out of this fog to save my life…literally.
So, I got sober.
Well first I took a trip to the beach to try to clear my mind and “find myself”. But getting drunk sounded so much better so I did that instead. Long story short, I had some kind of mystical spiritual experience and realized that I was at the end of the road. The highway of chemical comfort on which I had met many companions – cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines, alcohol and all the other things that come along with that – had run out of drivable asphalt. Dead end. Check ye souls at the door, no woman passeth this point with her life intact.
I checked in March 6th, the day of my mom and dad’s 29th wedding anniversary and my dad’s 63rd birthday. I gave them drunken hugs before I left town and drank the entire trip to Hunt, Texas. I passed out once, woke up and asked my husband at the time to stop for one more drink. I poured it in a Styrofoam cup and finished my last sip of beer in the parking lot of the treatment center, about twenty minutes late for my check-in time. I got out, said my goodbyes, slammed my black duffle bag down and got ambushed by an overly excited blonde named Linda. “I am so happy to see you!” she exclaimed. I was good and toasted so I played along. “I’m so happy to see you, too! Where do I put all this shit?” She led me to a nice nurse who made me take a breathalyzer test. After the funny, little beep she looked at the reading. “Okay, so you’ve been drinking this afternoon?” DUH. Who comes to rehab sober? Show me the man who doesn’t drink on the way to treatment and I’ll show you the man who doesn’t belong there.
I went to a room that smelled like Band-Aids and sterile equipment and fell fast asleep. I stepped outside in the middle of the night to smoke a cigarette and ran into a girl named Jennifer. We made some small, new-to-rehab talk and she disappeared. I met her again the next day because I didn’t remember our conversation from the night before.
Did I ever answer the big deal question?
Treatment is fun. You eat really well and you get to talk about your feelings. And you make your best rehab friend who you swear you’ll keep up with after you both get out. Mine was a cocaine addict named Courtney, who I called “Chutney Rage” because it made sense at the time. She used to shoot cocaine, which sounds really bold and foreign to me because I always just snorted it. I guess I wasn’t creative with my drug use. I started talking to her because I saw a book she was reading and it had Bob Dylan on the cover. “Do you like Bob Dylan?” I asked. “Oh hell yes,” she said. “Do you like Woody Guthrie?” And she affirmed again. We were inseparable for the rest of the time we spent there. We could usually be found smoking cigarettes in the designated smoking place, singing Velvet Underground songs and talking about using.
In my first sober day there while in the designated smoking place, which was lovingly referred to as the “Butt Hut”, I ran across a mean ass girl named Brooke. She had a mouth like a sailor and gave off that “I’ll kick your ass for no reason” vibe. I hadn’t been assigned a roommate yet, but I secretly prayed that it would be anyone but Brooke. Please, please, if there is a God in the universe, please do not assign me to Brooke’s room. She scared me. I tried to be nice when talking to her, treating her like the mafia don of La Hacienda Treatment Center, paying respect and doing my best to appear a humble, quiet alcoholic not interested in making trouble. Later that day, I got a call from the office to come get my room number. Thank God because I was beginning to get worried! I went back to the detox center, grabbed all my stuff and threw it back into my black duffle bag and went to the women’s dorm. I slid the key they gave me in the lock, twisted the knob and opened the door slowly, all the while praying I wasn’t going to share a room with Brooke, and came face to face with…Brooke. Turns out, she was a methamphetamine addict who used to run loads of meth to and from different cities in Texas with her murderous boyfriend. What I learned about Brooke in our time staying together was that she wasn’t all that mean – she was just scared.
I stayed there for thirty days exactly. The same day I got out I went to one of those meetings you sometime hear people talk about and have continued going ever since then. I won’t talk much about what I do in those meetings (you can find out for yourself if you want to know), but I will say that it’s the only thing that has ever helped me. Today I am sober. Today I know I’m an alcoholic. I know that there will never be a day where I can drink successfully, and that’s really okay with me. In all my years on the earth, I have never done so many scary things or grown as much as a human being than in my time being sober. It is, without question, the greatest thing that ever happened to me.
I’ve gone through a lot as a sober person. I got divorced; I got pregnant; I got left; I got into school and now find myself near the finish line of graduating from a university I hated for a long time. I developed some sort of resentment towards Baylor and its people after serving them pizza for so many years, so it’s ironic that it has become the school I will hold a degree from. Some people think college isn’t that big of a deal, but for me it’s monumental. I’m not supposed to be alive. I remember this time when I had an accident (alcohol related) on Christmas Eve the year before I got sober and I almost bled to death on my living room floor. Had one of those white light experiences and everything. I’ll tell you about it some other time. And even when I wasn’t busy dying, I was too drunk to leave the house. And even when I wasn’t too drunk to leave the house, I was too scared of what everyone in the world would say and do to me. Being alone in my house was the safest alternative in all respects. But now I go to Baylor – one of the nation’s largest, private BAPTIST universities. And no one there knows I’m a drunk, just one amongst many, just trying to do something different with my life. It’s a thrilling feeling when I think about it sometimes. And each day I get the privilege of seeing lots of women like me crash to the bottom of the barrel, fractured and miserable, then pick up their hearts and minds and walk again. If all of this isn’t a reason to celebrate, then what is? I mean, really. What is?
But I forget all of this. I compare myself to everyone around me and find myself at the losing end of the stick. Most of the time I don’t think I’m a good writer – I’m learning not to care. I don’t think I’m as good as the other kids because they did things the “right way” – but I’m learning not to care. My story is my story, and it’s the only one I have. At least now I’m getting to be an active participant in writing it.
So what’s the big deal? Nothing, really.