Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Now, what do I drink with fish?

The thing about relationships is they generally come when you least expect or even want them. I find it interesting that they tend to find me when I am least likely to make them work, and somehow they tend to work despite it.

I read a while back that it is not recommended for someone in recovery to even entertain the idea of taking care of anything or anyone more complex than a house plant for a FULL YEAR AFTER you’ve completed a program. Obviously, with my beloved dog, I shucked off this recommendation early on – I have every intention of incorporating my dog into my life when I get out and in fact, look forward to including her in so many things I plan on doing.

An intimate relationship, with another human – well, I hadn’t even thought of that. I mean, sure I look better than I have in years, and my personality and spirit have really come alive thanks to nearly nine months of sober living. Because of the program, I have spent a lot of time working on how I handle the world and how I greet the world. In a nutshell, I would TOTALLY date me, I am finally “a catch.”

The kinds of stresses that might have sent me into a tailspin a year ago are absorbed and dealt with as a function of my new instincts – not emotionally, not even mentally – but in a new plane of consciousness that is there for everyone, but often neglected or ignored.

Perhaps that’s one of the things that I find most refreshing rehab and about sobriety, I feel like I have been equipped with methods – automatic responses – that help me deal with life. I will say it again, I think everyone should grab a stint at rehab if they get the chance – even if you don’t have an addiction – the rehabilitation of my thinking and adaptability is the kind of thing I’ve been able to fold up in my back pocket and carry with me.

But back to the relationship – it is easy to get insulated when you live at the ranch. What a completely cool environment it becomes when everyone around is constantly improving something in their lives – all the time. Guys on the ranch are reconnecting with family, getting healthy, starting school, finding ideal jobs, creating new friendships and becoming active participants in their own lives and no longer the clueless observer that they once were. I don’t know if I can explain how utterly helpless you feel when you realize that somehow you’ve abdicated your own control over what happens to you or what you are doing to a bottle of $4 gin.

Lane and I were speaking the other night about when he first got here. Lane had been a career drinker by the time he was 18. By the time he was 21, he was drinking the equivalent of 3 six packs before the afternoon, then would follow it up with a half gallon of other booze or something else to ‘wind down’ the day.

He entered rehab this year, he is the youngest person in my group of friends at 23 – he sometimes regrets that he will never be able to go into a bar and have a beer with friends after work… but the life he will create at his age is worth that kind of denial.

Anyway, when Lane got to the ranch, he was detoxing super bad. Not even he realized the extent of his withdrawals. For a week, he seemed OK – he worked, he dutifully began his program with the mindset that this would have to work for him. And then it started.

Lane slowly began to lose his grip on his reality. Only about 50% of alcoholics will have a physical withdrawal to alcohol and only 5% of them will have Delerium Tremens – but the mortality rate for someone having delirium tremens is about 35%.

The days leading up to his episode were murky and become more cloudy to him as he tells the story. Brian and Marty came in with him and they recount stories of Lane, who would occasionally have a weird episode. One time on the shuttle, he rolled up a shuttle pass and whispered to them, “Hey when we get back, let’s go smoke this.” And while they all laughed at him because it was almost ridiculous, they didn’t realize that his brain had already begun the serious physical withdrawal which could kill him.

The night it all went down, everything appeared OK. Lane was working through the day, and recalls sweating really bad. He also felt extremely shaky.The ass squirts were pretty severe (we call this the Brown-Eyed-Pees – hey it’s a MENS farm, we’re gross, OK) – But then things began to change. Lane was sitting in the dorm where we all start the program and where he lived; people tell how he suddenly jumped up and began to rifle through people’s drawers! Later he would explain that he was looking for his ID because what was happening in real life was a far cry from the reality Lane’s brain was creating - and he was on his way to a party.

His brain was doing this, mind you, because it was starving from the nutrition it had been getting for years from the sugars and carbohydrates in the alcohol. His brain, maybe even by design, was taking over and tricking his body into a scenario where the reward of booze would be the goal.

While he was going through drawers, in his brain, he was in his parent’s basement, and was even beginning to see things that weren’t there – he was looking out into space, but seeing the interior of a room that was miles from where his body was.

Well, as you can imagine, a crazy person rifling through everyone’s drawers muttering things about going to a party and speaking to people who weren’t there was OUTRAGEOUS to say the least. Even on the ranch, a place full of crazies, there is a limit to what is considered ‘normal’. He had reached his.

Finally the guys had calmed him down, the ambulance was called and Lane was carted to the hospital. Once inside the ambulance, Lane was restrained and he remembers vividly the horror of several threathening men banging on the outside of the ambulance door, trying to get in to his new safe place – for what, no one knows. These men didn’t exist anywhere but in the terrifying corners of Lane’s malfunctioning brain.

Once he arrived at the hospital, his mother tells of a son who, by this time, was seething, cussing, and completely out of control, he was foaming at the mouth, even spitting; she described him as ‘possessed’ trying to bite the paramedics and the nurses, scratching and clawing– I can only imagine how terrible the ride must have been for him – the only person on earth that was experiencing this horrible melt down, and he was completely alone in the experience, mind you, still a 22 year old kid. He didn’t tell us the ‘possession’ part of the story until recently because he was so embarrassed about it. The 'possession' must have been a result of the demonic sights and emotions his brain was inflicting on him - terrorizing a 22 year old kid with no means to stop it - and NO help from anyone. He was alone in this, and his brain had him cornered.

At the hospital, he had several other episodes where he halucinated and saw terrible sights he descibes in vivid detail, but which I will nto recount out of respect for him; had to be restrained. At one point, he even toppled a completely full urn of piss because he had little control of what his brain was seeing or doing. I want you to realize at this point in the story, this was all going on 10 DAYS after he stopped drinking. He had been sober for over a week before his brain realized it was going to be denied the precious boozie nectar, and his brain and body WERE PISSED OFF!

Now, I am going to step back and describe Lane. He is one of the most sedate, calm, cool, collected guys I have ever met. He has a sense of balance and quiet about him that men twice his age have yet to master. He is generally in control, and I don’t think I have ever heard him raise his voice or say anything in a tone of contempt. For Lane to behave in the way he was behaving is made all the more horrific when you meet him now, sober, detoxed, healthy.

Anyway, the farm wouldn’t have him back until he had a psych release. His mom scrambled to keep him in the farm, making calls and ensuring that he would not lose his bed and have to get back on the list. Jack, the intake chaplain, assured her that this would not happen and that the farm has seen it all. He told her to take care of her son, and have him take care of himself, and that his bed would be stay his.

Lane describes the three days he spent in the psych ward as pleasant enough. He says it was nice that he was fed all day long, and he just relaxed, he talked, watched TV, he got better. But, in his head, he was still really embarrassed. I asked him what he was embarrassed about and he told me he remembers thinking, “Geezus, you finally made it all the way to rehab, and now you’ve gotten yourself in to a damn psych ward.” It spoke volumes about the kind of person he is – the kind of reflection he is also dealing with, it was a revelation he will always remember about how bad he, at 22, let his addiction become.

Which brings me back to where I was…. When I mentioned that you can’t imagine how helpless you feel when you realize you’ve abdicated your life to a bottle of booze. Lane had that realization and nearly died in the process of seeing it. He is going to choke me for saying this, but, I feel extra compassion for him because he is still so young and the horror of what he saw, what he lived through that night is made worse when you consider that he had to travel that path all alone – terrified – confused – and so damn out of it. Whether trauma is real or imagined, its trauma.

Lane is also the only one of the guys on the farm who has a full time, serious, on-going relationship. His girlfriend has supported him through the program and has stood by his side as he continues to fight the good fight to sobriety. The ranch can really test your relationship and help you see if it has some mileage in it – it’s a major event in a man's life and if your relationship doesn’t have some muscle, it will not survive rehab - don't even expect it. One of you or both of you will not be able to manage it.

Lane was fortunate in one aspect, and that is that he has had this relationship from the beginning, and so he has incorporated it into his recovery plan – the one we all make for ourselves to maintain sobriety.

I, on the other hand, have not incorporated anyone into my recovery plan and so I am now adjusting to someone new in my life. I am walking a fine line between allowing someone into my life and keeping my life private. It would be hypocritical of me to keep this part of my life from someone new when I spent the past few months pontificating the importance of ‘Being Real, Being honest." I can also say that if I was dating someone and they kept something like this from me, I would really feel left out when I discovered it - and frankly, cheated out of the opportunity to offer support, or even decide if I wanted to.

And so I am going on pass this weekend to the City, where I will probably explain why I live where I live and why my time is so limited. I will give an easy exit if this person needs it, I will not obligate them into sticking around. Nor will I make any promise that life will be a rosy picture of barefoot romps through fields of daisies once I am done. That's not real. There will be weak moments, heck, there might even be a relapse, it will not always be pretty, it will not always be a fantasy.

I am an alcoholic, my reality can never give way to a fantasy world or I might end up lost in it. Searching for the fantasy world is part of what got me here to begin with. Its that fantasy world that turned on Lane when his brain tried to force him from reality. If you don’t think peeking out and existing in complete reality is scary to an alcoholic, imagine Lane’s brain, the night it tried to hotwire his body, tried to take control and strong arm him back into submissive "reality aversion." The night it tried to terrify him back to the safety of a bottle, or perhaps kill him in the process.

There is one obvious advantage I will mention about embarking on a new relationship as a sober person… When I go on a dinner date, I never have to struggle with that age old question “What kind of wine DOES go with Today's Catch!”

Hey…. YOU have a good week.


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