My last blog post was about 2 weeks ago, and since then, I’ve made it through 2 relatively big milestones (in my eyes) completely sober:
- Trade show in Orlando
- The flu
More than anything, I think what I despise the most in sobriety is sickness. I’ve had strep throat and the flu within the last 6 months, and being sick absolutely forces me to revert to some old habits: laying in bed all day, calling into work, not going to meetings/group/therapy, boredom… Like, when I’m sick, I feel like I get REALLY friggin sick, not just an annoying sniffle or cough, but like throwing up, snot coming out of my nose like water, deep, heaving cough, can’t see straight, deathly sick. More on that later… I’m ready to finish this Mistaking Free-Fall for Freedom mini-series.
It’s around New Year’s Eve, 2015, about to be a new 2016.
On New Year’s Eve of 2015, me and a boyfriend I had at the time went to one of those paint and wine bars. It was actually SUPER fun, we had a great time. The only problem was, the wine was SO expensive, and we only split ONE bottle between the two of us, for the whole 5 or so hours we were there. The whole time my mind was preoccupied with drinking and getting drunk.
This boyfriend I had at the time, Ben… interesting story. Ben and I met at band camp when we were in 7th or 8th grade. I played the flute, he played the french horn. This was a pre cellphone, pre Facebook time in age. So, we only talked a few times a year in between band camp on the landline (LOL). Every year at band camp, we would show up, along with all of our band camp friends from years past, and everyone just knew we were the band camp couple. All bets were off for the week of band camp — if I had a boyfriend at the time, well I didn’t have one during that week (Sorry Drew…). Years later, we ended up going to the same college. Neither of us knew we would be going to the same college, so when we figured it out, it was like a ‘sign’ we were supposed to be together. We dated for a couple months freshmen year of college, and then Ben had a mental breakdown. A no-joke, hallucinating, ending up naked in the middle of random places, amnesia kind of mental break. It was terrifying. He went home and stayed in a few different psychiatric hospitals before getting put on the right medication and going back to school somewhere closer to home.
Then, after I graduated college and moved to Milwaukee, we somehow reconnected. I think he might’ve found me on LinkedIn, and saw I was in Milwaukee, which was close to where he was living (with his parents), and his brother lived in Milwaukee, so we were close again. He came to visit me for a weekend and we hit it off, just like old times. Like no time had passed at all. We had so much fun, we laughed until we cried eating gyros. He came to visit me a few more times in the fall of 2015, and we decided to date. I was comfortable dating him while I was going through the trial-and-error with different anti-depressants, because he knew what having a mental illness is like. Also, because he could only come visit for one night a weekend, I had plenty of time to drink all alone.
I could not/would not drive to visit him for a couple reasons. One, I had gotten the first DUI, and so I had an occupational license where I could only drive to and from work or the grocery store, and only during certain times. Driving anywhere else, like a volleyball game or to visit my boyfriend, could’ve landed me in jail. Of all the rules I’ve broken, I really did stick to the rules of the occupational license. Two, he still lived at home, and I had my own apartment, sooo why would I go stay at his parents, when he could come to my apartment and we’d be by ourselves? He could only come for one night a weekend because he worked (for his Dad) early Saturday morning, and so he could only come Saturday nights.
Anywho, so New Year’s Eve of 2015, we were at the painting bar, and all I could think about was getting drunk and more, more, more wine. The obsession with alcohol was in full-fledged at this point. I remember resigning to the thoughts of being an alcoholic… like ‘oh well, I’m just an alcoholic anyway, so I’ll keep drinking more!’ and ‘I’m just another lousy alcoholic, so what’s the big deal with having a drink at 6 AM? Who cares anyway?! I don’t!’. The justification for my increasingly destructive habits was that I was an alcoholic, so what did anything matter anyway. It was like a diabetic saying, well I’m a diabetic so I’m just gonna drink all this Mountain Dew, oh well! I’m just a lousy diabetic! My attitude was FUCK IT. I gotta work? It’s a weeknight? FUCK IT. I gotta pay my bills? FUCK IT. I’m borderline overweight? FUCK IT. I still have wine left in this bottle, but I’m puking my guts out and sweating through my clothes AND it’s only 5:30 AM?! FUCK IT!!!!!!!!!
New Year’s Eve came and went and 2016 started off with a lackluster bang.
The thing that sticks out in my mind about the very early days of 2016 was my first trip to detox.
I had gone to the hospital for the 2nd time in 24 hours sometime around Jan 2 or 3, 2016. I was absolutely miserable. I was cold, lonely, depressed, and withdrawing from alcohol while alcohol was still in my system. I was hungry, dehydrated, unshowered, unkempt for days. Part of the reason I think I would go to the hospital so frequently was to have the feeling of someone caring for me. Someone to bring me blankets and worry about my well-being. Another reason was for the magic medications.
Unfortunately, the ‘magic’ of the medications for alcohol withdrawal were starting to lose their appeal. I needed more, but they had given me max doses already. I was still shaking and throwing up, whereas just a few weeks previous, the minimal dose fixed me right up.
My mental state at this time was avoid and/or justify, deny, deny, deny, run away, just don’t deal. I couldn’t reasonably think my way through what I was doing to myself. I just saw it as another thing that was happening to me, not really understanding why. I remember laying in the hospital bed, thinking like, ‘how did it come to this? A year ago I was moving to Milwaukee. Now I’m in a hospital bed for the dozenth time because I almost killed myself drinking too much booze… What’s wrong with me?! Am I an alcoholic? Maybe I am, SO WHAT! Do I need to go to one of those psychiatric hospitals like Ben did?! Why am I doing this to myself?!’ It was a back-and-forth CONSTANT battle in my mind, like the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, and my head kept turning back and forth until it was spinning.
I would wake up to cops pounding at my door, asking if I was ok. ‘Yeah…. ummm, I’m fine… why?’ ‘Well your landlord called in for us to do a wellness check because there were complaints of loud crashes and crying and screaming up here, possibly from this apartment’… A grizzly flashback of me crying in the corner, screaming at the top of my lungs “WHY MEEEEE?!?! WHHHHYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!” would come back to the front of my memory… ‘Oh, well, no officer, everything is fine now. Thank you.’
Or I would have another freaky flashback, of me holding a knife to my wrist, crying and screaming and telling myself ‘JUST FUCKING DO IT,’ while I’m also telling myself ‘STOP! THIS IS INSANITY’.
Or, I would have a fuzzy memory of me spilling wine everywhere, attempting to lick it off the floor, or falling over furniture, spilling over and ruining my clothes, blankets, coats, etc.
Or, another disturbing image of me, running out into the oncoming traffic in the middle of the street, hoping to get injured enough by a car to be in a coma, if even just for a while.
Fuzzy, upsetting images of myself pleading with someone, anyone, to bring my drugs and alcohol, in exchange for literally whatever they wanted.
The disturbing thoughts, images, and flashbacks I have, of me, absolutely inebriated, thinking of ways to at least disable myself enough to be in a coma for a while, if not totally do myself in, are extremely troubling, but I have begun to deal with them in my weekly therapy sessions.
I say ‘alone,’ but that was an illusion. My family cared so much about me. I had a boyfriend (although he wouldn’t be around for much longer). I had a job (though that wasn’t going to last either). I was on a volleyball team, I was reffing volleyball matches all over Milwaukee. I was not alone! But that was the mentality, the perception I had at the time. I was so lost in my own self-pity, I couldn’t consider that maybe another person cared about me.
Anyway, so I’m sitting in the hospital bed, still very, very sick from withdrawal, and the nurse says ‘Judith, we’ve given you all the meds we can give you here in the ER, and we’re worried your withdrawal is going to turn into delerium tremens. Have you ever thought about going to detox for a few days?’
Well, no, I had never thought of going to detox for a few days. At this point in my life, I didn’t even know there was such a thing, where alcoholics and addicts go to stay in a locked psychiatric ward for 72ish hours to dry out and stabilize. Detox… hmm..?? Maybe I should give it a try? They promised I would feel a lot better in a couple days, and said it might even be a good time to get some rest and start hydrating, eating, and bathing again. It sounded SO good to have a break from the madness that I was causing myself on the regular.
So I gave it a try. I committed myself to a 3-day inpatient psychiatric ward/detox.
It was all so foreign. Here I am with people who are smearing their poop on the walls, people who have actually seriously tried to end their lives because they are so miserable. I’m with people who’s skin and eyes have gone yellow from jaundice. I’m with people who can barely talk, for reasons that range from severe alcohol abuse to fear of using their own voice. I’m with people who’ve been beaten, by someone else or even themselves. They have track marks, noose scars, missing hands or feet from gangrene. They are moaning and screaming in their rooms, begging to be let out, yet the nurses and patients just keep walking by like they aren’t even there. And here I was, the little 24 year old young woman who drinks too much because she’s lonely and depressed… GET OVER YOURSELF, I thought.
It was a big reality check. Meaning, ‘I’m not like these people!!!!’ I thought, I might drink a little too much, and I might be a little lonely and depressed, but for fuck’s sake, I’m not THAT bad.
So, after my 3-day little hiatus, I went right back to where I came from and started the whole thing over again. I had just seen the worst of the worst, and I was nowhere near that bad, or so I thought.
Drinking, drinking, drinking, crying, crying, crying, loathing, loathing, loathing. Unshowered, unkempt, dirty, stinky, clothes, glass everywhere, broken lightbulbs, dirty dishes, moldy food, sticky floors, cat litter and poop and hairballs all over my apartment, strange texts and phone calls, mysterious shoes and shirts and hoodies ending up by my front door, lost phones, lost wallets, broken furniture, ripped shower curtain… the list goes on…
The cycle continued and got worse. Drink, drunk, black out, hospital, detox, home, over and over and over again. I literally lost count how many times I went to the hospital and/or detox. If I had to count, it would be in the 20s or 30s at that point. I spent more time in hospitals and detoxes than out of them.
Somehow I managed to hold on to my job for another couple of months. I was officially let go from the Fortune 500 company on St. Patrick’s day of 2016.
I hit a breaking point. It was either keep drinking myself to death, which I had been legitimately trying to do for several months, or shape up and get another job.
I tried IOP (Intensive Outpatient). Hated it.
I tried meetings. Hated them.
I tried PHP (Partial Hospitalization). Nope!
I tried one-on-one therapy. No one understands me!
I tried yoga. Yoga hurt like a bitch.
I tried rearranging furniture. Yeah, right.
I tried eating healthy, exercise, journaling… nothing took my mind off the obsession for alcohol. Not. Even. Close.
After 12-13 days sober (I could never hit 2 weeks), I would relapse. And every time I relapsed, it got worse. The withdrawal was worse, the physical damage to my apartment and my body was worse, the damage to my family relationships was worse, and my mental stability was going down, down, down. It was spiraling out of control, so far out of control, I was finding that I couldn’t reign it back in.
I was getting overwhelmed just thinking about trying to repair some of the damage I had done. Which made me drink more.
I was so unhappy, hated myself SO much, I could NOT STAND to be in my own skin for more than a second without alcohol to make it easier.
I was jobless, single, losing my family, about to lose my apartment, I had nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide.
So, I had one last hurrah and drank as much as I possibly could for several days until I actually and legitimately thought I was dying from cardiac arrest, and went to detox again.
This time, I threw my hands up and said ‘I want to be done.’ I thought, this is it. I’m so over this disgusting, horrendous, messy, insane life, and I want to get better.
I stayed at that detox until they found me a residential treatment facility to go to. I ended up going to Gateway Foundation in Lake Villa, IL.
My family was overjoyed that I accepted the help. They volunteered to move all my belongings out of my apartment, store everything, and take care of my cat until I was ready to get back out on my own.
I went to Gateway around Memorial Day of 2016 and stayed for 2.5 weeks. I felt on top of the world when I left. I hadn’t drank in 30 days by the time I left treatment, with the detox and inpatient stay combined to have almost a month of sobriety. I had energy and life back! I had life by the balls again! Time to go out and get moving again!
It seemed so simple at the time. Go to rehab and BAM! You’re FIXED! Everything is FIXED!!!!!
Oh my GOD is that SO WRONG. Rehab does not fix anything. Inpatient rehab/treatment is the easy part of giving up and trying to turn life around. But I, nor my family, knew this at the time. So we thought after treatment I would be all set, all fixed, all good to go and back to the Judith everyone knew.
So anyway, I went to the treatment facility, surrendered to alcohol and moved to a halfway house. I stayed sober for almost 5 months. The only thing that changed was the fact that alcohol was removed from my life. I was still depressed, lonely, and obsessing over alcohol. I was trying to fix, manage, and control everything. I wanted everything to go back to the way it was, and I wanted that to happen like, yesterday. I was very impatient and unhappy and nothing was satisfying to me like alcohol used to be.
Anyway, I think that’s where my Mistaking Free-Fall for Freedom series will end.
I get the title “Mistaking Free-Fall for Freedom” from one of my favorite sober ‘bibles’ (as I call them), called Unwasted, by Sacha Z. Scoblic (hopefully that link works). Unwasted has been one of my absolute FAVORITE books about the transformation from an old life to a new life. In fact, on the same page as saying “I mistook my free fall for freedom,” Scoblic talks about the ‘fuck it’ mentality. I’m not going to go into too much detail here.. for one, this blog post is long enough, and for two, I’d like to dedicate a whole lot of time and posts to my sober bibles. But, that’s where I got the quote from, and that’s exactly what I was doing. Mistaking my perceived, new-found adult freedom for drinking whenever and however I wanted in unlimited quantities that ultimately led to my demise where I was unrecognizable in person and spirit.
Thanks for reading!!