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Keep Coming Back

by Lindsay 6 months ago in addiction
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My Journey from Alcohol Dependence to Sobriety

I. THE DOPPLEGANGER

“Welcome back,” were the two words that echoed in my head every time I came to after another blackout.

“Welcome back.”

(Where did Drunk Lindsay leave me this time?) I cracked open my eyes enough to see the shadows on the pale blue of the bedroom walls, which meant I was in my bed this time, not on the couch, or sprawled out in one of the chairs on my lanai. Or passed out in the grass in my front yard under the palm tree (the police woke you up that time & sent you inside & called your mother).

Head pounding, I wiggled my toes. My socks and shoes were still on. And I was still wearing my jogging clothes from last night. (Did Drunk Lindsay go jogging? Surely not. Where did I go? The store? Yes. I went to the store.)

My sheets reeked like sweat and cheap gas station wine. I tasted the sour aftertaste of bottom shelf whiskey from the liquor store down the street.

I wanted to vomit. I probably would soon.

The screen of my phone glowed with my daily "good morning" text from my dad (Good morning, kid!). It was almost 6am. Almost time to get up and start all over again.

I wanted to die. I probably would soon.

My morning routine back then:

Letting my dog out; pulling on whatever clothes I could find in one of the many clean or semiclean laundry piles; splashing cold water on my red and swollen face; applying lotion and makeup to hide said redness and humongous circles beneath my eyes; brushing my teeth and gargling to try to reduce the ever present smell of booze that permeated from every pore; throwing up; brushing again.

I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I squinted at the hunched figure reflected there, an empty shell of a human female in her early thirties. A doppelgänger from hell had taken over months (or was it years?) ago. I looked away in disgust.

Chugging a handful of ibuprofen with the electrolyte drink that I started buying to help with the hangovers, I used a dirty dish rag to try to wipe away the reddish wine stained rings on my white countertops. Opening the freezer, I took inventory of how much booze was left in the bottle.

I poured an entire pot of coffee into my oversized thermos. Time to go to work. Head pounding, the ground spinning, stomach heaving, and heart racing, I got into my car (but first, I threw away the empty liquor bottle hidden in my glovebox) and went to wait in line at my favorite fast food restaurant.

At the menu screen, I heard my voice ordering the food, and it seemed like the most normal thing in the world to make such an easy transaction.

A simple transaction.

I handed over my card; I took the paper bag spotted with grease, "have a good day!" I said automatically (there are people who love you, and you are throwing it all away).

Waiting at the red light, I looked at the sky, and purposefully thought about nothing.

When shame began whispering in my ears (You are such a failure, why aren’t you even trying, you are useless and worthless), I told myself it was nothing, like I always did.

I drove to work, feeling awful, like always.

If tears welled up, I didn’t let them fall.

The days of making false promises to get better, to do better, to drink less, to try again, we're over and done with.

I’d tried before, and failed. Again and again. I knew what my future held for me now, death. Death would come sooner, rather than later; and in the meantime, I would just live as best as I could.

I got to work, sat down at my desk, and focused on other things as best as I could with a raging headache and less than two hours of actual sleep. My fingers were heavy and swollen as they typed an email. My ankles and feet swelled like balloons. My feet were numb and tingly. My vision blurred as I stared at my computer screen.

Nausea and cravings were my constant companions. A terrible paradox.

The sweating was uncontrollable, in those final days. Cold sweats that smelled like booze and a life going to waste.

By late afternoon, I felt tired but ready to begin again. My face was hot and itchy. I knew the drink would soothe me. My lips and tongue were hot anticipating that first drink. God, I needed that drink by then. Of course I did, I was caught in an endless cycle of detox and withdrawal.

Meanwhile, I watched myself perform ordinary everyday tasks from somewhere outside myself:

Smalltalk with coworkers; scrolling through social media (other people actually have lives, wonder what that’s like?); texts to and from family and friends; emails; data entry; phone calls.

When the end of my work day finally came, it all started again:

The drive to one of the liquor stores near my job; handing over my debit card, a simple transaction; receiving a black plastic bag containing a bottle.

It left me breathless and weak-kneed with anticipation. Breaking the black seal on the cap, the first sips (welcome back) before I even left the parking lot, the warmth, and then the numbness.

And later, the blessed nothingness.

II. THE AMBULANCE

“Girl, you can drink!” The incredulous voice of the EMT boomed down to me, and I came to.

I remember looking up at a blurry group of strange faces looking down at me. Some of them were police (Shit! Not the police again!).

I was sitting outside on a curb beneath an oak tree, I didn’t know when or where. I couldn't speak. I couldn't move.

When I came to again, I was lying on a stretcher in an ambulance that was speeding down the road. I could see how fast we were going through the little square window in the back door of the ambulance.

“No, no, no, noooo…!” I frantically began ripping the IVs out of my arms. I tried to sit up, and get up off of the stretcher. I had to get out of there. Now.

The EMTs tried to get me to lay back down, and I tried to fight them off of me. Most of the EMTs were shorter than me. I'm tall for a girl. And back then, I was pushing 220lbs, and I was in a drunken, panicked rage. They tried, but I started shoving.

The last thing I remember is the ambulance pulling over, several of the EMTs yelling while they held me down while a couple of them strapped my hands and feet to the stretcher so I couldn’t move.

Then I was gone again. Many hours later, I woke up in the ER.

I didn’t hear “welcome back” in my head. There was only silence, and a terrible pain in my head and body. I was freezing cold.

I was wearing athletic shorts, a tank top, and my jogging shoes. My shorts had bits of leaves stuck to them. The leaves reminded me that I had just gone out to walk my dog (where am I, what happened?). My wallet and phone were not in the room. I had no idea what time it was, but I could tell it was late.

Panicking, I yanked the IVs out of my arms again, and got up from the hospital bed. Staggering to the door, I poked my head out of the hospital room. I saw a desk in the center of the room where nurses were standing and sitting around, talking and staring at clipboards. They looked over at me.

“Oh, there’s the girl who tried to fight the EMTs. Are you going to try to fight us?” One of them said to me. “The bathroom is over there,” they pointed across the room.

This was a nightmare. This had to be a nightmare. I saw the clock on the wall behind their counter, and realized that an entire day had passed and it was late in the evening now. I found the bathroom, and then went back to my room.

I wanted to leave more than anything, but I was so weak I could barely stand. I thought about using my phone to get an Uber to pick me up, but I didn't have my phone. I laid back down on the bed, and closed my eyes (Please, please, let this not be real. Please, please get me out of here).

Footsteps approached, and I pretended to be asleep. I overheard the nurses talking about me in lowered voices, and the things they said about me and what had happened earlier that day made me cringe with shame and fear and self loathing:

“...they found her passed out in a gutter with her dog. Her BAC was over point three...her grandparents are on their way now to get her…”

I wanted to say, "That's not me. That's not who I am. I'm a professional. I am responsible. I have friends, and my family loves me. I just drink to feel better. I don't always black out. Well, I never used to. There were days when I was in control. There were fun times! That's not me. I didn't."

But I said nothing. I wanted to die. And I did. That version of myself, Drunk Lindsay, died a terrifying, humiliating, and painful death that day in the hospital.

It was the worst day of my life, but now I wouldn’t take it back. I wouldn’t undo that day.

She had to die.

III. The Gratitude Club

“Keep coming back!" The Gratitude Club in downtown Sarasota, Florida is a cheerful old building with worn wood floors and huge windows. Outside through the windows, you can see the long waves of the Spanish moss hanging down from the tall oak trees, and there is a back yard filled with clusters of green ferns that are always dappled with bright bursts of the Florida afternoon sunshine.

"Keep coming back! It works if you work it!"

The Gratitude Club has been around for decades. Stray cats lounge on the picnic tables outside, which are scattered with cigarette ash trays and bowls of water and food for the cats.

Inside, it smells like burnt coffee and dusty books, a smell that brings me back to sitting in wooden pews of a small church with high, steep ceilings as a young girl, clutching a dogeared hymn book, giggling at the old fashioned song lyrics and the sounds of the pipe organ.

I placed a crumpled dollar bill or two into the basket as it went around the room; a simple transaction.

The Gratitude Club (and the early days of sobriety) is all about learning the value of simple transactions:

A dollar in the basket pays for coffee and powdered donuts; sharing your story during an open meeting helps someone else who is struggling; repeating the serenity prayer as a group together makes it easier to repeat it to yourself later on when you are alone.

These things give you strength when you drive home each evening after work, past your usual liquor stores; these simple transactions buy you strength and time and power when the cravings for a drink are so strong that you curl up in a ball and cry from exhaustion and fear and weakness during those early days.

I went to the Gratitude Club almost every day for a month on my lunch break. I sat in the back; I didn’t share much.

But I watched and listened as people much older than me, people with decades of sobriety, shared their stories.

And I watched as their faces shone with health and gratitude, and I saw how their shoulders were squared with dignity.

I wanted what they have. I will always want what they have.

“Keep coming back!” They clapped and patted me on the back when I collected my red thirty-day chip, a chip I keep on my nightstand now, next to the flimsy plastic white chip I picked up years ago.

I don’t attend those meetings now after almost eight months of sobriety, but The Gratitude Club stays with me.

These days, I wake up feeling pretty good. My clothes for the day are neatly laid out on my dresser; my lunch is packed; my house is in order. My worst day sober is still a million times better than my best day hungover or drunk. That statement is a miracle.

These days, I still drink too much coffee, but I don’t have to line my stomach with fast food. I’ve saved a lot of money. Which is good, because I have an ambulance bill to pay. I’ve lost a lot of weight, and I've also lost a lot of the kind of weight that sits heavy on your shoulders.

I barely recognize the girl in the mirror who stands tall and proud where several months before stood a hunched and miserable doppelgänger.

I barely recognize myself, because I am beautiful now. I am healthy. I am at peace. I look and feel like I have my entire life ahead of me.

When I am (God willing) much older and looking back on my life, I hope that the days, months, and years I wasted getting wasted will feel like nothing.

God willing, the years that will stretch on ahead of me now will be sober years, filled with the fullness that life has to offer instead of the emptiness of drowning inside a bottle.

Welcome back.

addiction

About the author

Lindsay

Spent my childhood curled up beneath the apple tree in our backyard reading library books. I love sci-fi, fantasy, mysteries, and young adult fiction. I also write about addiction and recovery, a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

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