Day one began unlike any other day. I used to comment that I never followed the spirit of recovery more thoroughly and without reservation than I did on the first three days. I don’t believe that today. I think there’s a subtle self-sabotage in that statement that didn’t become clear to me until about year 24. If the best I can do is the first 3 days, then what’s the point going forward.
Back then, though, I probably needed that perspective, especially in years 2 and 3, which are my favorite years. In hindsight. Living through it- not so much. It’s one of the reasons I’m taking on this project: the usual “if I can help even one person” motivation. Not much is written about recovery past the first few months, so this is my stab at it.
In my last post, I ended with the mutual “I love you” between me and Sam. I picked up right where I left off the next morning, after a pretty good night of sleep, if I recall. I most likely still had a BAC over .12 at 10 AM, when she showed up at the boarding house. Withdrawal, the REAL withdrawal, wouldn’t kick in for a few more hours. Regardless, I felt optimistic and hopeful, and those feelings were validated the minute she got there.
We sat on the steps to the house, holding hands. She brought me some Gatorade so I could rehydrate. We held hands, talked about our future. She even taught me how to snap my fingers, something I’d never been able to do. I still couldn’t (and can’t) whistle, but we laughed as we tried. After about an hour, she needed to pick up her son and take care of some things, promising to come back at 5 with some food.
I went back into my room, started cleaning things up. I threw my pipes away along with the empty cans and bottles. I tinkered with my bass a bit, but I didn’t have the soldering tools to re-connect the electronics. I remember it being sunny, hot day, which it usually is that time of year, probably in the mid-to-high nineties.
In back, my housemates were grilling burgers and ‘dogs. I ate a couple hot dogs, happily answering their questions about what I ok? What happened? I apologized for the noise I made on the porch, especially Russ, who lived directly above me. He usually didn’t hesitate to yell down for me to shut the fuck up, but he was totally chill. He tapped me on the shoulder, said it was okay, and then went back to his uppermost room.
I made all sorts of pronouncements that I would stay sober this time and my life was gonna be one big adventure. I saw the looks on their faces as they politely patronized me a bit, but I understood. I’d said this before, and I was no stranger to recovery. I’d been to an Inpatient Program just under 5 years prior, while I was in the Navy. Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, for six weeks. I was a horrible patient: snuck comic books that I hid in my locker, poured out my Antabuse so I could drink during weekend liberty. Yet still, some of what I learned sunk in. It wasn’t entirely a waste of time.
So I hung out, chatted away and got some badly needed food. 5 o’clock came and went, so I went back to my room to call Sam. When she answered, there was silence.
“Hey, it’s me. You still coming over?”
A couple more seconds of silence, then a bitter voice on the other end.
“You got a big fucking mouth.”
Panic set in. Those needles of pain that are a few seconds ahead of realization as the brain scrambles to grasp what’s happening.
“I just got done talking to Byron, my ex. He told me everything you told Chuck. Don’t ever talk to me again.” Slam.
I just stood there for a while, holding the phone. The needles of pain became red-hot heat as I started to understand what’d just happened. Only one question came to mind:
I don’t know how long I stood there. Time itself seemed to bend around, go back-and-forth. Dozens of thoughts went through my head, vying for attention. Somehow, some way, only one thought prevailed.
I’d lost Sam. But I recognized that I’d lost her anyway. Last night was merely one blip in an ongoing comedy of back-and-forth.
I’m not doing this for her.
Whether it was 5:30 or midnight, I can’t say. My vision had shrunk to whatever it was right in front of me, a wall or something, and it was pitch black. I slow realization was coming over me about how truly fucked I was, and Sam was the least of my problems. Whatever light remained in my vision closed in, shrinking until it was a single point of greenish light.
I looked down at the floor. The point if light as at the tip of my toes. It slowly spread upwards, expanding as it climbed. Two threads wound their way up my spine, then winding around me and meeting the original thread at me feet. The light enveloped me, pulsing and shimmering, until it wrapped around my head.
An angel with strawberry blonde hair appeared to me, wearing a white shirt that tied in the back. She stepped towards me, placed her hand gently on the sides of my face. She leaned in and I could see the green irises of her eyes swirling and changing color. She gave me a single, soft kiss on my forehead.
“Your going to be okay. Go to sleep now.”
She was gone, I was back in my room. I stretched out on my bed and fell asleep.
The next morning, I felt…badly. My head was pounding, and my insides felt like they were going to explode. They did. Both ends.
After a few minutes, I tried to grab the sheets. The smell was noxious. I had the presence of mind to take them outside, fling them over the side. I managed to walk out the back steps, grabbed the water hose and rinse them off. I grabbed them, dripping wet, and got them to the laundry room and into the washer. I think it took me an hour.
I was on auto-pilot, with nothing more than a rudimentary understanding of what was happening, what I had to do. I don’t think I was capable of anything beyond that. I got back to my room, laid down, on the bare bed exhausted.
I was wide-awake in seconds. I felt another round of evacuation preparing, and I managed to get back to the laundry room, where the bathroom was. Bowels first, digestive track second. They politely complied with the order of functions.
The thirst hit me like a jackhammer, my head throbbing. I remembered Cronenberg’s Scanners. I think I smiled at that. A glass of water was an almost impossible task: my hands were shaking too much to hold the glass steady, let alone hold it to my mouth.
Therapeutic aside: if you or any loved one experiences anything remotely like this, call 911. This is no joke, and this narrative IS NOT an example of what to do, or that one can tough this kind of thing out. I’m describing severe withdrawal, more than likely delirium tremens. I needed hospitalization, meds, fluids and observation. Period.
I drank greedily out of the faucet until I gagged. I managed to get back to my room, convinced I’d fall asleep, that I’d be better soon. I just needed rest.
My eyes closed, then opened. Wide and painfully alert. I spent the rest of the day in this state, helpless to do anything but lay there and feel what was happening. It was in that moment that I finally believed in a Higher Power, a divine intelligence that gives order to the universe. My body was reacting exactly how it was designed to react. Such a thing could not be random.
I dosed off and on through the night, but for no more than a couple of minutes. I didn’t gain full wakefulness, but I couldn’t sleep, either. It was purgatory.
One thing I did do was write a journal entry in a notebook. I lost that notebook years ago, but I did reference it a lot when I started typing a few months later. That’s where I get most of my recollection, by the way. I don’t have an incredible memory as much as I have hundreds of pages of journal writing. Most of it is whiny, I admit. But dates, events, and people are also on those pages. I highly recommend writing for anyone entering recovery: it’s a great reminder and source of comfort for me years later.
Josephine checked on me, brought me soup and Gatorade. Her son had been an original Hell’s Angel, and she’d seen this kind of thing before. Jo was my best friend in the house, and though she came from a dubious past, I do think at times that was a bit of an advantage.
I did finally manage to call into work, speaking directly to the Human Resources representative. This was back in the day when HR was worker-focused, though it did quickly evolve into legal advisers who protected company and management interests. Kragen had brought on HR the Union campaign, which worked out quite well. I knew the HR guy pretty well, and he was an earnest advocate for the employees. He was relieved to hear from me, and when I started to babble about losing my job, he told me he’d already filed the Employee Assistance Program documentation. I was on a leave of absence, and could take the rest of the week.
It was a badly needed moment of reassurance. Losing my job and income would have made everything much more difficult, and at least I had once less thing to worry about. I’m pretty sure I smiled.
But I did not sleep. I spent the rest of the day and night drinking fluids, eating soft foods, and counting the minutes that made up the dull day.
As the sun rose, I realized something had to change. After almost six years, my experience in Navy Treatment became useful. I began to come up with a plan, which hinged on going back to AA and taking this thing seriously.
General Aside: writing this is not always pleasant. Once the music from this era starts playing in my head, the feelings I had back then can become very ‘right now.’ It’s good for writing (maybe) but it’s not so good for my psyche. I do take breaks, and ‘ground’ with more current music. Right now it’s MWWB (formerly Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard) and the exceptional ‘Harvest.’ It does the trick nicely. That, and ongoing therapy. Recovering from my recovery is an ongoing process.
The sleep thing was becoming a problem, ditto with the social isolation. I had to do something, and like millions of ‘Mericans, that means AA. It was time to make the call. A couple hours later, David and Robert were sitting on my porch. I was fucking miserable, but that was outweighed by my need for help.
They listened for a while. Finally, when I complained that I hadn’t slept in three days, Robert addressed it directly.
“No one ever died from a lack of sleep.”
Clinical aside: not true. I needed hospitalization. That level of sleep deprivation in the midst of withdrawal is dangerous.
Robert was an imposing dude. At about 6’5” tall and a deep moustache that spanned the width of his face, he looked like a biker. He had a deep voice, and a penetrating glare that told you he wasn’t messing around.
David looked a bit like Larry David, and had a much more gentle approach. I didn’t need the gentle approach, and even though Robert was wrong on so many levels, it was precisely what I needed at the time. It makes me shudder. But in that moment, it worked.
The meeting was starting in a half-hour. I took a very quick and very cold shower, put on fresh clothes I had by some miracle and hopped in the car with two strangers on a “12th– Step Call.” Even then, these were rare, and they always went in pairs.
The meeting was held in a church on the outskirts of town. The parking lot was full, but the room was ample and air conditioned. Smoking was banned from the meeting, which I appreciated even as a smoker. There was a slight energy in the air as members milled about. I was greeted right away by a guy named Joe. I’d met him during my last attempt at this, about a year ago. He remembered me, seems quite glad to see me. He offered to introduce me around, but Robert interjected.
“Give us just a minute, partner. I have someone in mind.”
Joe nodded his head and went back into the room. Robert walked me over to a tall, older man.
“Fete, this is Scott. He’s the one I told you about.”
Fete greeted me with a big smile. “Hey there, Scott. Good to me you.” He had a slight Cajun accent, and was actually a bit taller than Robert. He must have been imposing a few years ago. He handed me a Big Book, the AA text. “This is yours. Now, make good use of it, you hea’? I’ll catch up to y’all after the meetin’.”
Robert stared down at me. “You know what to do with this, right?”
“We ain’t gonna hold your hand. We’ll catch up with you after the meeting.”
I nodded again.
I stood there, for just a second. My past experiences in NA and AA flashed in my mind in an instant, and all I knew for sure was I had to do something so radical, so unexpected, so out of character that it would actually…work.
I walked up to Joe. He put his hand on my shoulder, introduced me to the guy he was talking to. “Andy, this is Scott. Right?”
“Well, hello Scotty. I’m Andy.” The handshake nearly tore my arm off. “Let me see that book for a second.” He wrote something in it, gave it to Joe, who wrote something in it.
I had my first 3 phone numbers. Fete had written his in before he gave it to me.
Joe looked concerned. He whispered, “I think they’re about to start.”
We walked over to a line of chairs near the coffee, which I gladly got a cup of. And then another, because I was shaking so strongly it spilled out of my hand. Joe looked at me, nodded, and held the cup for me.
“You’re in the right place, “ he said.
Here’s a link to the Spotify Playlist. It’s a work in progress, but you can get it here