change of heart

I open my eyes, I’m in bed but I don’t remember getting here.  I don’t remember much from last night. It’s been another one of those nights.  I bought enough vodka to get me through the next couple of day, but the obsession took over and I’ve consumed all of it. A litre and a half, in one evening.  My hands are shaking and I my body feels like it’s vibrating. I haven’t been sleeping much these last few weeks. The first wave of nausea hits me like a freight train.  As it passes I make my way to the bathroom, I get the cold water running in the hopes that it will do something to help alleviate some of the pain in my head. The second wave of nausea hits, worse than the first, much worse.  I am now retching in the sink. My body is trying to throw up something that just doesn’t exist. I haven’t had very much food in a few days now. After a half hour of very violent dry heaving and vomiting up nothing but stomach bile and leftover booze my body is feeling destroyed.  My chest feels like I am being ripped into pieces, I’ve been convulsing so violently that I have pains up and down my back and sides as if I boxer has been throwing kidney punches at me. I’m tired, so very tired. I’ve spent many mornings now just staring at myself in the mirror begging myself to just stop.  “What if today you just don’t drink?” I ask myself this question over and over. I’m crying now, and begging to just feel normal. Even a short respite from this pain would be heaven. But there is no one to hear me No one is listening.

My wife has left for the weekend, she is off to some place up north with a friend.  I think she would do anything to get away from me and my drinking. We have been fighting about this a lot lately.  She can’t understand why I won’t just stop. I don’t understand it either. I know I shouldn’t. I know that I am becoming just like my father.  If I don’t smarten up I am going to become an alcoholic. I am going to ruin my life. I am going to die.

The pain I’m feeling in my head, my heart and my soul are too much.  Just too fucking much. I can’t keep doing this. I make my daily call to the cab company that will gladly deliver me whatever booze I want.  I just need to make it until the liquor store opens. The call is made, my shaking hands are barely able to dial the phone. The guy that delivers my alcohol will be here soon.  Not soon enough. Pacing, pacing, pacing all through living room and kitchen, I can’t sit still. I’m in panic mode. Where is this guy? He isn’t operating with the appropriate amount of urgency that I would like.  I suppose he has many deliveries just like mine to make, a bunch of drunks in pain first thing in the morning.

Now with my booze supply replenished I can get to work trying to feel “normal”.  I go to the basement of the house, here is where I have been isolating myself. Drinking and trying to not to feel.  Not to feel the anxiety, the sadness, the loneliness and the shame. I crack the seal on the bottle and take a big gulp of the vodka.  It’s burning my throat and now my stomach is churning. Another wave of nausea hits me, this time different. If I can just keep this vodka down I will feel better in a few minutes.  My vision blurs and suddenly the urge to vomit is too great. I lurch across the room to try to make it into the laundry room but it’s too late. My hand shoots up to my mouth and the precious liquid sprays out of me between my fingers and all over the wall and the floor.  Now I’m in the laundry sink sort of throwing up, sort of. But now the warmth is spreading. So is the sadness.

After a few hours of drinking, alone in the basement I’ve been wandering around the house trying to think of something to do to keep me from finishing off the rest of the booze.  But nothing seems to be working. All I can think about is my pain, and now I want someone else to feel my pain. But my wife is away. I snatch up a knife from the kitchen, and I’m crying again, I suddenly have this urge to cut myself.  I want to make myself bleed and hurt and maybe, just maybe someone will find me and they will be sad like I am. If I just bleed out then this pain will be gone, I won’t have to feel like this anymore. Something makes me pause and get my phone.  I start to text message my wife and I’m telling her that I need help to stop, telling her that I can’t do this alone. I can’t do this without her. I’m telling her that I am going to hurt myself, that dying would be better than this. I realize this is truly selfish, and mean and desperate, but I need someone to be in this pain with me.  She tells me that she wants me to leave, to get out of our house. She is going to have someone change the locks.

I’m back in the basement and I am drinking again.  There is a knock at the front door. I stumble up there and my brother is standing at the door.  He is a plain clothes police officer and is on duty. I don’t know what made him decide to stop by, perhaps my wife has messaged him to come.  I’m broken and I tell him what’s been going on. He says that maybe I should consider going to an AA meeting. Maybe. Maybe not. My wife is demanding that I get some help.  She says that if I check into a place that deals with this sort of thing then she will come home. But not until then. Sure, fine, whatever it takes….

I have been calling and getting information about a place associated with the hospital in Barrie.  They tell me that I can come the next evening. This place is called detox and its sole purpose to make sure that I get the booze out of my system without hurting myself.  They will keep an eye on me while I sweat and shake all the alcohol out of my system. If I have a seizure they will get an ambulance and get me into the hospital. However, in my mind this place is going to fix me.  They are going to cure me of this affliction. They are going to teach me how to either drink normally or how one can not drink at all. Either way this gets the heat off of me. This place is full of drug addicts, no one in here is like me.  I’m not as bad as these people. I have a home, a job, a wife and I will have these things when I get out of here. Every night there is a volunteer that comes to take people to AA meetings. I politely decline each time. Saying, “No thanks I am not feeling up to going out.”  Each time these people come back, they tell me how good the meetings are. I think they just like getting the real coffee with caffeine in it. After a few days I am finally ready to go home. People in here talk about “treatment centers”. They each tell me that they are great and how well they work.  It’s confusing because if they work so well, why are you guys back in detox? After a few nights in the detox I leave and I feel I have a new perspective on myself. I am convinced that I don’t need to drink. That I can be normal. This perspective change is short lived and sadly misguided.

My father has offered to arrange for me to go to a treatment centre.  I am not convinced that I can do that. I have to work, I can’t take that much time off.  Also, that sounds pretty drastic. I don’t even like staying at other people’s houses never mind staying in some shitty rehab.  Plus, I am going to give this AA thing a try. I should be fine. I make it to my first AA meeting at the Base Borden Group. The people are very friendly.  I am nervous as hell. I have a bottle of vodka in the car, I’m thinking that these people will talk me out of actually drinking it. Everyone is very nice, they have licorice and I leave there thinking I could go back.  I have a shiny new 24 Hour/Desire chip. I am admiring it as I walk down to the basement and I put the bottle away. After a few hours, I am drunk. I have finished off the bottle. FUCK!

I am now barely holding onto life at this point, the a functioning alcoholic.  (Well in my head I am high functioning) But I’m missing work or working from home while I drink.  My wife is pissed off at me again. Slowly, I am becoming convinced that something has to chance. I may have to seek a new way to live.  Something has to be better than this. I call Dad and tell him “I am ready to go to treatment if the offer still stands.” He calls as soon as he hangs up and he gets me setup to go to Renascent Addiction Treatment Centre in Toronto, ON.  I’m terrified! There is a man named Isaiah that keeps taking my calls at the intake office. He checks in on me and makes sure I know that I will be okay. That I will be comfortable when I get there. Now I have to pack some clothes and some stuff to take with me to this place.  They’ve emailed me a list and it’s like packing to go to summer camp. They’ve provided a big list of what I can bring and what I cannot bring. There are all sorts of rules, even a map of where in Toronto I am allowed to go. NOTE: it’s a small map, and it essentially allows for movement to 12 step meetings.

My treatment centre is 12 step based, they provide a good introduction into the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 step approach to addiction treatment.  This isn’t harm reduction, this is total abstinence. The councillors are all very nice and welcoming as I settle into this 21 day program. Here I attend my first few meetings and I have now met people in recovery that are happy and joking.  They greet each other with warm smiles and hugs and hearty hand shakes. This is pretty overwhelming, but after a few days of this AA boot camp I am feeling better. I am feeling something change in me. I am having a change of heart. I don’t have to live the way I was living.  I have seen real life proof that recovery is possible. I’ve met people that have happy and contented sobriety. I WANT THAT!

A short while before I went to detox and started this recovery journey I talked to my doctor and a councillor at the medical centre.  I was diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder. I have always suffered with this. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but I know it sucks.  It drags me down into the darkest places that are almost impossible to get out of. This anxiety is always present, like a dark cloud following me everywhere.  I always feel like something bad is about to happen. Some days it’s hard to function at all. It’s like trying to swim laps in a pool while wearing heavy clothes, way harder than it should be, but if I don’t keep trying I will drown.  When I first reached out to the medical community for help I was put on a medication for it, even though it’s a low dosage I can feel that my anxiety is not as overwhelming. Now that I have a few weeks of sobriety I can feel my brain slowing down.  I am able to process things a little more calmly. The medication is finally able to help me see through the anxiety. It can finally do its job. I have a program that asks me to pray and meditate and these things are helping me greatly. I take time to pray to my higher power for guidance, I meditate to hear his answer.  I have had a change of heart and it feels good, really good.

While in Renascent we talk a lot about some of our reasons for our substance abuse.  We learn how to look inward and see what types of things are triggering us to want to pick up that first drink or drug.  We talk about the cycle of addiction which is very eye opening for me. I did not know that what I was feeling was pain in the truest sense of the word.  I learn that I am not only being dragged down by my anxiety, but my total lack of any sense of who I am or who I used to be before I started to use alcohol as a way to numb my pain.  I have absolutely no self esteem, I feel useless, ashamed, unlikeable and unloveable. I lean that I am a people pleaser because I need people to like me and I don’t think that there is any way that I can be loved unless you need something from me.  I am afraid that everyone is going to leave me, leave me alone, abandon me. I am incapable of setting any boundaries. People can call on me to do just about anything and I have no ability to say “NO”. Very often I end up in situations that I am not comfortable with because I cannot tell someone that I would rather not be doing this or I don’t like this.  They also point out to me that I tend to be more concerned with other people’s well being than with my own. Another symptom of my people pleasing.

These are very heady revelations to me.  I did not know that I had all these problems, or at least I did not know that some of the ways I thought about situations are a bad thing.  That they were causing me stress and anxiety. It is exhausting trying to make sure that everyone but myself is ok and to make sure that no one is mad at me and that they like me.  Again, I’ve had change of heart. I don’t have to live like this. I can learn to set boundaries, that I can learn that sometimes will like and appreciate me just for being me. My councillor has me start writing in a journal and every day I am to write the words: I am capable.  I am worthwhile. I am loveable. I’m not saying I truly believe these things yet, but it’s a start.

Some of us in the centre begin to talk about our family life and our childhoods.  This is very scary territory for me. I do recall some fond memories from my childhood.  It’s not all bad, but I am very good at focusing on my trauma. And to me the trauma is fresh and depressing.  My father is an alcoholic and he was away from home a lot of the time as I was growing up. The times he was home were often turbulent and fraught with anger, confusion and a constant feeling of having to be perfect or else face the consequences of an angry father.  My mother is forced to work multiple jobs to be able to pay the bills and make sure we have the essentials of childhood, like Christmas presents. Dad has often drank away all of his paycheque. When I was 8 or 9 years old is the first time I vividly recall the “monster” that the disease can be.  Dad used to go to happy hour at the bar on the military base every day. One summer I decided to build him a big piece of string art as a Father’s Day present. He came home drunk from the bar and passed out on the couch at around 5:00 or 6:00pm. Mom was working and my little brother was playing outside.  This is all business as usual in our household. I left the house to go to my friends place, he is the one helping me to build this big string art picture. I was only gone for an hour or so and I left to get home to make sure that my brother is OK. I know that it is my job to look after him, to make sure that he hasn’t gotten into any trouble.  I walk into the house and Dad is up, UH OH! He is yelling at me, screaming “where the fuck have you been? The phone has been ringing, your mother called and woke me up!” I’m crying and telling him that I was just at a friends place for a minute, this is not good enough. He storms across the room and proceeds to hit me, in the face, in the side and gives me spanking.  He screams at me to get out of his sight and then goes back to the couch. The beating is abnormal, the reaction is business as usual.

My mother shared a story with me that I had forgotten about.  When I was very young we lived in Germany on the Canadian military base.  My parents used to get a sitter for me names Will. He would come down to our apartment while they went out to the many functions that make up military life.  These were always in the evenings. Apparently Will attempted to molest me one evening while he was looking after me. I don’t recall the exact details of how this happened.  Maybe I am blocking it out, maybe I don’t actually remember. But I vaguely recall having the dark and uncomfortable conversation with my Mom about this situation. Later in life she brought it up as if I should remember the whole story.  I didn’t, but when I began to try to remember I began to feel really sick to my stomach about it. Not knowing exactly what happened to me, seems very frightening. It allows my imagination to run rampant and create all these really terrible scenarios.

I’ve had a change of heart, these things don’t have to control and shape how I feel about myself.  How I think about life and the people that I interact with. In recovery we talk about forgiving others for the wrongs that they may have done or that we perceive to have had done to us.  We have to make a list of the resentments that have been holding us back. I have had a change of heart. I want to work towards forgiving these people. My father, my mother and the people that I feel have wounded me.  I’m not there yet. I struggle with this all the time. But I know that as long as I get up everyday and make an effort to try to get there that I am growing and healing. Every baby step in the right direction is good for me.

This change of heart is going to save my life.

Today my hand shakes all the time.  But it’s to greet my friends and newcomers into the rooms of recovery.  To welcome them and show them that there is hope. That they too can have a change of heart and save their own life.

Just for today, let me happy and content.

This is a story I’ve submitted to a group that are writing a book about mental health, addiction, and recovery.  I’m not under any illusion that it will be selected to be part of the book, but it was kind of fun to write.

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