Mental Health

Party Done, Party Girl

beerThey tried to make me go to rehab but I said…fine. An essay from a few years back about my time in rehab and struggling with depression.

I moved back home to the east coast after a few years on the west coast. Things felt stable, I felt stable, but maybe a little better than stable. I hadn’t been happy in years, and now I felt happy, with a robust social life, a house full of roommates I actually liked, a steady job, and what I considered to be a fairly healthy work-life balance. I volunteered, I went to the gym, I went out to bars and parties, I worked hard, I spent time with family, I went out, I went out, I went out. I was taking my medication steadily. And then I realized I didn’t need it anymore. I felt good.

* * *

I hosted a big dinner party, and instead of the pleased (and pleased with myself) feeling I was normally left with after such an event went off so smoothly (lots of food, lots of drink, lots of praise—oh, the praise!), I felt empty and used up. This isn’t good, I thought to myself the next day, when the feeling not only lingered, but steadfastly attached itself to the outer walls of my heart. Eight years of cycling—ups, then longer downs, then ups again—and I knew that this was a turning point. If this feeling is still with me in the next few days, I was going to have to address it.

* * *

After a week, the feeling was no longer succubating on the outer walls of my heart—it had burrowed into the recesses and was pulsating and throbbing and eating me from the inside out. I panicked. I cried. I sobbed. I dry-heaved. I grew frantic and inconsolable (although I still continued to send text messages to friends and family to “help me,” the manipulative, yet genuinely desperate plea for any form of respite [of which there was none, and never had been during these downward dips]). Then the suicidal ideation began, and those around me were legitimately worried (my parents called me every day, my roommates grew concerned if I wasn’t home at a normal hour).

* * *

When I couldn’t take it any more, I took myself to a hospital Takkin had once been in, and tried to check myself into inpatient care. The lady who assessed me spent 45 minutes asking me all kinds of questions about my mental health past and present, my drug and alcohol use, my current feelings and emotional state. I answered as truthfully as I could (although looking back at times, I wonder if I over exaggerated, or perhaps under). She told me about her daughter (getting her PhD at Georgetown) and I felt embarrassed about where I was and who I was. She needed to go confer with the doctor. She printed out the notes she’d taken—my fucked-up brain in tidy Times New Roman on one (one!) piece of paper—and left the room. She did not come back for 30 minutes. I was excited, and scared, and on the brink of relief. Here, they will tell me what to do. Here, they will give me a schedule and I will be forced to follow it. Here, I will never be alone. Here, here will be like daycare—except I will have the fortune to stay the night, sleep in a dorm with others worse (or better) than me.

We can’t admit you, she said when she came back. I thought it was insurance related. I told her I had excellent insurance. No, she told me. Not the problem. The doctor says you need to go to detox first. I clenched my jaw so the tears wouldn’t start. What do you mean detox, I asked. Read my lips honey: detox, rehab, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, a place for addicts, a center for the clinically dependent. Read. My. Lips.

So I nodded and said ok and smiled until she stopped talking and went away. She handed me my one piece of paper, which now had script written on the back, and I bolted out of there, out to my car, where it took me three minutes to tell my waiting father what she had said. After a few moments, he said, what do they know anyway. These doctors are all the same. They don’t know anything.

Yeah! I thought. He’s right! Screw those idiots. I’m going home. So I got in my car and drove home, crying hysterically all the way. I went straight to bed, and woke up the next morning puffy-eyed and confused. Did that really happen yesterday? No, it couldn’t have.  I went through my normal routine: dressed, drove to work, drank coffee, checked emails. But my mind was elsewhere. My mind was attempting to unpack the concept of “alcohol and substance abuse.” But everyone I know drinks 30-40 drinks a week. Everyone I know pops whatever pills they can get their hands on. Everyone I know drives drunk and acts recklessly and belligerently. It’s the weekend, come on! I’m young, come on! I’m just a fun-loving girl, come on!

* * *

But I couldn’t kick the feeling that there may have been some truth to it. I went to lunch at my grandmother’s house and locked myself in her bedroom, the one she refused to sleep in after Baba Amini had passed away. I called the rehab center I had been referred to. I did a quick phone assessment, wherein the gentle-voiced guy on the phone suggested I come in for a face-to-face assessment. Saturday morning, 9:30. That was it. From there, the doctor would recommend inpatient treatment or an intensive outpatient treatment. I texted my parents to meet me at Starbucks. I have something I need to talk to you about, I said.

When they arrived I was drinking an iced coffee. The condensation was gathering in a little pool around the plastic cup. I kept tracing its circumference with my finger. Are you pregnant, my mom asked. I wish, I thought. Instead I told them everything, my plan, how much I actually drank and did drugs (so sad was it to see their faces change when they were trying to compute the amounts and frequencies with which I drank—but you don’t drink HARD liquor, do you? I drink it all, Mom. And every last drop of it.), and my intention of getting an assessment at this rehab facility. They were, refreshingly, relievingly, remarkably supportive. It runs in the family, they said. Which part? I asked. All of it.

* * *

After setting up an appointment to check into rehab, I did what any girl in my situation would do—I threw a big party scheduled for the night before my assessment. I’m not going to drink, I said. And then—I’ll only drink a couple beers. And then—I don’t know— because I was already too drunk to remember if I had even bothered to set another pointless limit or provide another excuse. I woke up hung over the next morning ready to check into rehab.

* * *

I didn’t want my dad to come with me for my initial assessment. But he insisted, and I had no fight left in me. So I woke up early on Saturday, cleaned up from the party the night before, cut my hand while absent-mindedly washing a wine glass—there was blood everywhere—packed my bag in case I was to be admitted to inpatient treatment, and waited for my dad.

He arrived at my door well before the 9:30 appointment and we had a cup of coffee while I wrote down important numbers on the back of a receipt, in case they took my phone. I brought my painkillers with me, because I had been instructed to do so, and they were buried deep within my purse, because even though my parents now knew, I didn’t want my father to see them.

* * *

We arrived at the hospital, in front of the small brick building where the program was. I told my dad I’d call him when the assessment was over in a couple hours. You don’t want me to come in? he asked. No, I said, stern, no explanation. He knew things were out of his control, and maybe he even believed a little bit that I still seemed to have some control.

The building was exactly what I expected, half hospital, half dorm: there was a nurses’ station with people milling about looking at charts, holding vials of this and that. And then there were small rooms with bulletin boards that had informative flyers tacked to them. A man stood behind a small, rolling countertop handing out pills while people meandered by, some stopping to get their doses, some coming to talk to nurses. I waited for the intake specialist who would come assess me. I sat very straight up in my chair, taking sips of water, my legs crossed and I attempted to exude something like confidence, or pride, or sanity. I was not like the people in here. I was not.

But it turned out, I was.

The psychiatrist tried to force me into inpatient care, and I grew hysterical when he and the nurse confronted me with the prospect of having to live sober for the rest of my life. Please don’t make me, I repeated over and over. Don’t make me. Despite my heaving sobs and shaking, I convinced them to allow me to participate in outpatient treatment. They admitted me and I let my father know when to pick me up that afternoon. I joined the group in a small meeting group and I began the week-long program.

* * *

There were so many worksheets to fill out in group. So many probing questions to answer. So many different ways to face the same problems—every worksheet and every question just kept poking and prodding at the same base issues. It felt as though someone was jabbing a bleeding sore on my body with a stick. My first worksheet aligned with Step One of the 12-step program: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or our drug of choice). That our lives had become unmanageable. The question: Discuss attempts to control use of chemicals. Give specific examples of times you’ve tried to control your addiction in other ways besides complete abstinence.

I’ve barely ever tried to control my substance and alcohol use—it just ebbs and flows. Sometime I’ll tell myself that I’m going to go out or hang out with friends and not drink a lot—just have a few beers. And I almost always end up getting trashed. Other than that, I’ve rarely even attempted to exhibit control, and worse than that, even a desire to control.

* * *

So much information was coming at me that it all got twisted up in my mind. We had lectures from nurses, spiritual and meditative readings, scientific information about the chemical effects of alcohol and drugs. I had completely disregarded—forgotten—the physical effects of all those substances being put into my body, being put in there by my own hand. I had forgotten what a night of Adderall, mixed with vodka, topped off by Vicodin would result in. Everything mixing itself up together inside me—being shaken up and stirred, each building on the other, to form the strongest, most potent elixir, eventually creating the perfect cocktail that would make me feel perfect and happy and whole.

* * *

They drug tested us and took our vitals twice a day—once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. I always tested negative for everything, but others didn’t. One guy was positive for ecstasy. Many were positive for pot. We even had our own blood pressure arm bands. They gave me mine on the first day and it had my name written on it with a sharpie. Tara E. it said, like it said on my pencil pouch from second grade. My temperature was always low, which apparently could have been a withdrawal symptom. I had my blood drawn twice, once in the beginning of the program and once at the end. Both times the tests indicated that my iron was low, which was unsurprising to me.

* * *

According to the Jellinek Chart, which outlines the disease progression of alcohol and drug addiction, I suffered from basic addiction: the individual begins to lose control as to the time, place, and amount used. He/she indulges unintentionally, uses to overcome the hangover from prior episodes, and tried new patterns of use to try to maintain some sense of control. He/she attempts cures by moving to new locations or changing companions.

* * *

There was a man who joined group on my third day. His name was Dwayne, and he had that burst-blood-vessel-in-the-face look that older men get when they’ve been drinking all their lives. He came down from the inpatient unit and he was like a zombie. A few days later, he was much more coherent. He had a good job with the government, loved watching baseball with a cooler of cold beers nearby (his aftercare plan was to replace those cans with diet iced tea), and he often talked about how much he loved his wife. She’s a great lady, he’d say. I love her to pieces.

* * *

I was given pages and pages of information about various resources and meetings: therapists, psychiatrists, 12-step meetings, outpatient services, AA meetings, NA meetings, inpatient treatments (should I relapse), various medications that could help in my recovery. I was encouraged to explore all the options and outline a specific plan. What is your aftercare plan, the counselors would ask me at least three times a day during our one-on-ones. I plan to go back to work, never go out with my friends, and sign up for an art class.

* * *

The spiritual readings were helpful sometimes, but sometimes they simply felt tedious. A tree stripped of its branches will die unless new branches can be grafted onto its trunk. In the same way, addiction stripped us of whatever direction we had. To grow, or even to survive, we must open our minds and allow new ideas to be grafted onto our lives.

The process of grafting something onto myself did not appeal to me in any way.

* * *

There was another elderly man in group. He was funny and cursed along with the younger people. The first time we heard him say fuck, we all snickered and giggled. What’s something you regret doing while using your drug of choice, asked the counselor. He thought for a long time before he answered, and I thought to myself, well if it takes him that long to come up with one thing, and I can come up with about twenty in that same amount of time, then he must not have been so bad off. He talked very slowly, almost with a slur. Well one time, many years ago, he said, I drank and then drove. My daughter was six at the time; she was in the backseat. We drove to the liquor store. It must have been around 10 pm. It was raining hard.

* * *

I drank to cover up the loneliness, but being sober made me feel lonelier than ever. I was without hope. And it wasn’t as though being drunk made me feel hopeful. It just made the whole concept of hope go away—recede like wisps of smoke born of someone’s spit-slicked fingers hushing a flame. But drinking was the symptom, not the underlying problem. I guess they’d said that all along. And I guess they, like me, took the easy route and put a bandaid on the wound without understanding why the wound was festering in the first place.

* * *

When the week ended, we had what they called a camel ceremony, where everyone in the group would go around and say something nice about everyone else. We were also given our sober coins. Tara intimidates me, one girl said. But in a good way. She has a job and seems very on top of things. I left group feeling hopeful, fingering my coin as I bounded up to my car to drive home. I lost it a few days later.

* * *

I was isolated. I walked around in a haze, slowly, with every thought focused on my next move: what will I do to occupy my next hour, what plans can I make this weekend, what invitations must I decline in order to follow this path that I didn’t even choose and I’m not even sure I should be on. I was in disbelief. I was skeptical about whether it all really happened—it happened so fast. And I was skeptical about whether it needed to happen at all.

* * *

Sober friends from the program called me a few times to come hang out. I never even answered the phone. It’s not that I wanted to forget. It’s that it felt disingenuous. I’m not like you, I never was. My life was still essentially the same, I was just living it on a different plane than I had been a few months prior. I discovered I could cut my friends down by 75%. I could count the people I enjoyed hanging out with sober on one hand. Did this make me a bad person? Maybe just an honest one.

I did not want to go to AA meetings. I found the whole thing irritating and overdramatic. And then I felt like an asshole for feeling that way. The farther away I got from rehab, the stupider I thought it was. Not in general, just for me. I decided I would be sober yes, but I would take sobriety out for a test drive instead of buying it and stupidly driving it off the lot without asking the necessary questions. Three months, I said. If I can do it for three months, then I can reassess.

* * *

They say when you quit drinking and drugging, your life opens up in a whole new way. There were adult art classes, trips to the driving range, long walks in my neighborhood. Things I never did on the weekend, when I was usually sequestered to my bedroom, hungover and watching tv, waiting for the night to begin when I would get dressed and get drunk and go out. Now, there were Friday and Saturday nights of cooking elaborate meals, baking pies, planning the following weekend day with endless activities. Sure, I was doing new things, trying to be open to a life that was allegedly opening up for me, but there were still evenings spent watching old re-runs of “Beverly Hills 90210,” eating extra salty popcorn in bed, and going to sleep at 7:30; I knew the night had nothing in store for me.

* * *

When I was asleep I wasn’t aware that everything had changed, that I wasn’t who I was, that I had no immediate future of the promise of a rollicking night out with friends, the frisson of energy that sparks inside you when you know—when you can just feel—that it’s going to be one hell of a night, and who cares how you come out on the other side of it, because for that moment, there is no other side, there is only now. Perhaps I would feel that again some day, and perhaps I wouldn’t. Perhaps I would regain myself, or find a new girl—a better one—who would wait for me patiently, willfully, on the other side of this unknown, strange night.

* * *

I spent Friday nights trying on dresses, organizing my books and shoes, hanging pictures in different places in my room. I indulged all of my weird food cravings, like pineapple and mini ice cream bars. I guess I was looking for anything to fill that hole, as I was completely incapable of sitting with that hole inside of me—sitting and just letting it be. Letting it breathe and expand, and contract, and expand. Almost like a balloon, like if it grew and grew and grew, bigger and rounder, filling me up, with thin breath blowing into it, and then it would burst and be gone. But I needed to let it be. I needed to let it grow and I needed to stop trying to shove things into it.

I showered a lot. Three or four times a day. It was a good place to cry and scream. I didn’t feel dirty; just itchy, and as though caterpillars were crawling across my skin. I sat in my backyard and smoked whole packs of cigarettes. I found stupid things to occupy my time. I experimented with a variety of organizations for my books: color-coded, weight, alphabetical by the last letter in the author’s last name. I was tempted to order them page-side out, spines to the wall. That way, I could pick at random. This was what occupied my brainspace now.

* * *

I would come up with new tattoo ideas to join the four I already had.  I was partial to black inky letters in secret places on my body. I would scrawl different phrases on a piece of notebook paper with the intention of getting one of them scrawled on my body:

“99 bottles of beer on the wall.”

“Two days at a time.”

“You are not all that is sorrow; sorrow is not all that is you.”

“Sorrow is my life.”

“Tomorrow, there will be no more sorrow.”

“Sorry sorrow, sayonara.”

Eventually it would just degenerate into tongue twisters.

* * *

I lamented the girl I was, falling asleep to memories of being a party girl, being the life of the party, feeling dead and isolated and soulless, like I’d lost a part of myself, like I’d lost the person I was, it may not have been a great person, but I’d gotten used to her, I’d gotten comfortable with her, and now she was gone, and I was stuck with this new, different person, an “other,” a person I didn’t recognize.

* * *

After three months, I started drinking again. But not like I had before, not even close. What was most amazing to me was that I could see the change in myself. I had undergone a process and come out different on the other side. I hadn’t even done it willingly. But here it was, the new girl and the old girl meeting somewhere in the middle, shaking hands, and deciding they could make a go of it together.




2 thoughts on “Party Done, Party Girl”

  1. Glad you found the way in between. I don’t think it’s very healthy when people quit drinking completely, but a break like you took and after that start with moderation sounds perfect.


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