Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Inauthentic Life, Part 2

*** submitted by Robin
Read "An Inauthentic Life, Part 1"

So many bad things happened that fall when I returned to teaching. I had two fender-benders in a month. I walked out of class one day, angry at students who had not completed homework. I had never done anything like this in all my years of teaching and when I was called into the dean's office to explain I adamantly defended my actions. When he said he was worried about my job performance I blamed the demands of a newly adopted daughter. I blew deadlines and forgot meetings.

Spring semester rose up to meet me like a sledgehammer. I'd worked in places like Guatemala and Afghanistan and yet I was terrified, all the time, in my own home. The only time I relaxed was after my last class, which ended at 7 PM. I'd retire to my office, put on a pot of coffee -- the smell provides excellent cover -- and drink wine while I read, surfed the internet, played music. I told myself that going home right before Mimi's bedtime would cause too much disturbance. I told myself I would feel better with just a little bit of 'me time.'

Because that was the truth of it: I was miserable. I never considered alcohol the culprit. I truly thought I was being driven to drink by some unrelenting, unknowable force. I couldn't figure it out. I'd always been cerebral, bumping into walls with my nose in a book, unable to deal with real life. This was the ultimate proof, I thought, of what a misfit I was. I couldn't even manage to be a wife and mother, the most common and natural things a woman could be. Apparently if they don't offer a college degree in it, I will fail at it. Failure, failure, failure: this was the refrain that haunted me.

Life was badly, badly wrong. I loved my daughter but I was terrified of taking care of her. I felt dependent on my husband and this was not right. I needed to wrest control, I decided; when I was single I never felt this awful. I needed out.

A very infrequent correspondence with an old boyfriend-turned-friend grew frequent and serious. He lived across the state, and our clandestine phone calls felt daring and romantic. We didn't have a physical relationship so I told myself I wasn't too hideous a person; when we started to talk about leaving our spouses to be together? Well, that's what we should have done in the first place. All of a sudden I could name dozens of romantic stories of people who took wrong turns on the way to being together with their soulmates.

So I made plans. I applied for a job with a university near where I'd studied for my doctorate. People there knew of my earlier work; I accepted an offer and planned to move that summer. I would be a better single mother, I thought, than the travesty I was making of family life.

March and April of 2009 were completely soaked in alcohol. It was everywhere. Stashed in the top of my closet, the trunk of my car, pockets of my coats. None of my tricks were original or clever: carrying recycling down the street, refilling wine bottles with water, telling the grocery store cashier we were hosting a party again.

In early May I had my first blackout. While in that state I apparently started a new Hotmail email account under an alias and wrote messages, perfectly spelled and correct in their grammar. To this day I don't know who all I wrote or why or what I said. I've been assured by someone who saw one that I don't want to know.

Two days later, Mimi and I flew to visit my mother, who had no idea of any of this. I kissed my daughter and rode off with my sister for a weekend's rest. At our first stop she disappeared with her Blackberry for a long time. We continued on and suddenly she pulled off the highway, took a few random turns, and deposited me at a treatment center a few hours from where my family lives, where my daughter would live for the four months of my treatment.

I didn't resist.

The staff at the hospital was not unkind, but they were not gentle, either. They took all of my belongings and locked them away. I was given a breathalyzer test, weighed and measured, blood drawn. The detox unit was in the psychiatric ward, and this is where they took me. When a nurse pointed out the one phone to be shared by the whole ward for 10-minute calls two evenings a week, I started to realize that this bizarre place was all quite real.

I had only one picture of Mimi, an old and crumpled one I'd happened to have in my wallet. I wasn't even allowed to have a book. It hit me then, how far from myself I had travelled, and what I had become.

That night, they gave me a shot to help me sleep. When I awoke in the morning I felt so refreshed that it took me several minutes to recall where I was and many more to venture out of my room. I was too distraught to feel gratitude (that would come later, and would be powerful when it did), but I knew I was incredibly lucky to have landed here, safe in a hospital. A woman down the hall was under guard; she had been driving when she crashed her car, killing her son and injuring her husband.

In this place the doors didn't lock, there were no sharp objects, and because there was no glass allowed the mirrors were only polished steel. Even though it was scratched and dented, when I looked in the mirror over my sink, I could see myself for the first time in a long, long time.


  1. Thank you so very much for sharing. Your honesty and strength is inspiring.

  2. What an amazing story. I'm so glad that you are able to share what has happened. It must have been such a shock to you to end up in rehab that way but it's wonderful that your family cared so much for you to get the help you needed. Congratulations on your sobriety.

  3. Thank you so much, for your writing. :)

  4. I hope there is more of your story you will share.

  5. Oh my god. I'm so so glad you are okay now. Thank you for writing this, I know it's not easy.

    xx c

  6. Oh Robin your raw honesty floors and inspires me. Your story is dramatic, but no more dramatic than all of ours I suppose. Thank you so much for sharing this I am so inspired by you. I do hope you will write more later. I can relate to all of this in so many ways. You are not alone with your former actions/decisions. Again, thank you.

  7. Thank you for sharing. It's amazing how alcohol can take us so far away from who we are that we don't recognize our true selves anymore.
    The journey back is such a gift.

  8. Thanks for sharing Robin. I can identify heavily with the "failure" line and also, cringingly, the remark about talking to the grocery store cashier... ouch.

    Thanks again.