An unforgettable week on pins and needles unfolded while I waited for a bed in a Detox unit after my last drunk, but I rode it out. Things at my house were a little brittle. The treatment center I went to was filled to capacity, so I was returned home after my evaluation until space became available. They gave me a heartfelt ‘Hang in there!’ and a handshake to go, along with a fistful of pamphlets. My wife didn’t say a word.
‘Just my luck,’ I thought as I wandered off into the darkness of the night and my life.
“We’re so sorry—it shouldn’t be long. Four or five days at the most,” they assured me.
Still, it was no sure thing I’d make it back once I hit the bricks.
“Remember– call if you need help,” they offered, but that was unlikely—I knew me. What’s worse, they forgot to add a “Don’t think” to the “Don’t drink”.
When the call finally came five days later, telling me a bed was open, I thought I’d be relieved. However, I’d done some soul-searching during my free time to prepare myself for this strange adventure, and determined I’d be in good hands at home. The tables had turned and things seemed worse without alcohol than they did with it, as usual. Nevertheless, I didn’t think I’d drink again—guilt and remorse at toxic levels should do the job. But would the Detox-Meister see through it?
While I paced back and forth, maxing-out the phone cord in every direction, I presented my case, intent on sounding as credible as possible. A traumatic experience that occurred when I was fourteen was the ace up my sleeve, along with a high level of low self-esteem, insecurity and a plethora of other side issues. I thought I’d give him the whole enchilada. Claiming all this new insight should end my out-of-control drinking, I began the wrap-up with my best closing argument. My wife rolled her eyes. I wondered if he was buying it—I wasn’t even sure I did. There were good reasons to quit before this that I couldn’t hang onto. Would this time be any different?
Something the Cat dragged in?
The Detox-Meister didn’t have time for my entire sales pitch. He listened as I went on and on, saw an opening and then interrupted me like an old pro. “You might be right. But I think we can help you.”
‘Help me? You think you can help me?’ As luck would have it, my strategy fell like a ton of bricks. “Well, okay… I guess I’ll be there,” I said.
After I hung up, I wondered, ‘Whoa! What the hell? Who said that?’ Was it the sincerity in his voice that persuaded me, or some crafty Detox trick? Something odd was going on. ‘What did I get myself into?’
I’d always suspected there was something wrong with me, and it was getting harder to hide it. But I still wasn’t sold on this clean and sober jazz. ‘Could they fix me?’ I could only hope.
In a flash, we were speeding toward Toledo before I could reconsider, with my luggage, cigarettes and sour attitude in tow. I stared out the window as the houses scrolled by, stuck between nervous and pissed. Everyone else in the car was excited I was going like it was the greatest thing in the world. They were abuzz, whereas I was thinking ‘Thirty days in the hole’. I had no idea what they thought I’d turn into.
I guess I looked surrendered when I crept in for my thirty-day sleepover. Actually, I looked like something the cat dragged out, and that’s bad—you know the stuff they drag in. I appeared at least twenty years older than I was and felt even older than that. Mentally and emotionally, I was strung out. I was thirty-three but had been aging in dog years for a while.
Sicker Than a Lab Monkey!
Basically, I was a mess. Dark circles half-mooned under my glassy, bloodshot eyes, and my face had an unnatural grey cast to it that complemented my nicotine-stained teeth. “A refrigerator tan,” I used to joke. I always imagined I was better-looking when the lights were low, and I was right about that. The widespread fluorescent superglow in the Detox unit diametrically affected my appearance—with plenty of light added, I was downright ghastly. I resembled a Stage One zombie that was on the verge of falling apart in their creepy, doomsday way. That’s how I felt, anyway.
My Mom, whose father was an alcoholic, often warned me I shouldn’t drink. She had first-hand knowledge of the damage alcoholism could spawn. She and her siblings had rotated through several foster homes throughout their childhood. What’s more, she reminded me I had hepatitis when I was seven. On some after-benders, my liver would ache, which wasn’t good because I only had one. I was pretty sure it wasn’t nice and bubblegum-pink anymore.
I was certain I would have looked pretty good if I added a couple of handfuls of hair and about thirty-five pounds in the right places. I was undernourished, a nice way of saying a bag-of-bones, yet I sported a beer belly—kind of that meatball-on-a-stick look displayed by old softball players and skinny veteran bowlers. But I had it goin’ on.
Many hangover mornings, I was sicker than a lab monkey in a Boris Karloff flick. I pitied those poor little guys, with their sad, little monkey eyes. I’d also been through the wringer, although mine was self-inflicted.
Unfortunately, I came unglued a lot, too, usually with inanimate objects suffering the consequences. Both hands were damaged from the innocent walls I punched, still red and swollen even after several weeks had passed. The walls had won all the fights. Nevertheless, in my drunken stupor, I always acted like I hurt the wall—big man, hurt walls. I never said Ow, but I thought Ow.
Red Giraffes or Pink Elephants?
Despite the pitiful shape I was in, I was unsure if I could cast it all away– the lifestyle, the image, the friends, the debauchery. The bottle had been by my side for so long I didn’t know how else to live.
Would life have anything to offer if I tried it sober? It felt like my life was over and I was still breathing.
Even though there were potential hurts in every bottle, walking away from alcohol seemed the ultimate sacrifice. It made no sense to anyone in their right mind. They threw up their hands and ran for cover, far away from Mr. Hyde’s stomping grounds.
Oddly enough, there was hope in this strangest of places, something I had not anticipated. Possibilities of something good occurring in my life had been remote as my drinking ran its course, but there was something extraordinary about the chain of events that delivered me to this peculiar Ground Zero. It hinted hope was not entirely lost.
I didn’t have a clue what a Detox unit would be like. Would the alcoholics be on the floor, shaking and drooling, seeing red giraffes or pink elephants? Would some be just out of straight-jackets, weaving baskets or making clay ashtrays? Did they all sing hymns of praise together, like a crazy fella acapella, and then read the Bible, or would they be chain-smoking and telling lies, just like in the bar? I couldn’t imagine what this kingdom of alcoholics would be like, and what might happen to my life if this worked for me.
Funny, Yet Dead Serious
It quickly became clear when some of you twelve-steppers arrived from the Outside to talk to us, wanting to help us see beyond our dim and troubled horizons. I sensed that you had better things to do with your lives than to come to Detoxes and lie to a bunch of broken-down people. Hence, I believed you.
I listened to your pitches, even though my smug intellect would have rejected your desire to help under any other circumstances—you, with your stale slogans and your big blue book, your coffeepot socials and your red jelly donuts.
But your clothes were clean, your hair was washed, and it appeared you actually were eating food that was good for you. Your eyes were clear and your smiles were true, and most of you spoke in complete sentences. You weren’t freaks or squares or raggedy people, or stowaways on a ship of fools. I had never seen nor heard anything like it.
As you told them, your stories were akin to mine. You felt the way I felt; we spoke the same language. When you told me about you, I began learning about me, and became part of the ‘We’. You were earthy yet kind, funny yet dead serious; generous, yet told me you were selfish. And you liked to talk about yourselves—both of them. The before and the after. A lot. I was going to like this part when I got started.
Full Speed Ahead
The more I listened, the more I identified. Just as it did to me, the booze filled up your missing puzzle pieces; it wasn’t what we searched for, but it was a powerful substitute. Its benefits were never questioned after I discovered its ‘magic’, and I wasn’t alone. You, too, had pledged your allegiance to it.
You and I—we—had burned a lot of bridges, but not the bridge back to alcohol. It had been defended at any cost. Booze was the straw that stirred the drink, our answer to “Is that all there is?”
It let us dream those dreams and fight those fights; it was the power we lacked. Once we tapped into that power, we forgot there ever was anything missing, as long as we stayed plugged in. But eventually it took all of us down. That’s who you were, and that was who I was. We were the same. I was home.
Fortunately, your rocket science simplicity was tailored for the geniuses in the room. Like the skeptics have always done, I would have shook my head and thought, ‘I’m stuck here with the Keep It Simpletons’. But I was empty and broken, trapped and afraid, and therefore, a perfect human specimen where a miracle could take place. I found myself offered a second chance at life as I commenced to learn how to live on borrowed time.
Full speed ahead—well, not really. I knew I’d be lost for a long time, but my life wasn’t over—it was just beginning. Wow!?!
Well, detox my socks off!
© mark masserant