Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rehab Diaries: Introduction

By Robin. I share my story here and at Life... On Its Own Terms,. This is the first I've talked about rehab. It saved me, and please, if you want to know more about going to treatment (for yourself or someone else) please contact me. We -- Val and Ellie and I -- are here to keep the conversation going. Take care.

It would not be truthful for me to tell you I went to rehab to get better. I went there in search of the same thing I'd chased with pills and alcohol: oblivion.

I've planned to check in the next morning, but on the way to our hotel my sister, who has been charged with delivering me to the detox I’d found on-line, unexpectedly swings the car right instead of left and pulls under the hospital portico and says, Goodbye. I acquiesce silently, a response most unlike me, instead choosing in this visceral moment to shut my eyes, hold out my hand, and be led into the darkness.

As I'm weighed and blood is drawn, it's easy enough to tell myself this isn't any different from the few other times I've been admitted to a hospital. This holds until they give me a breathalyzer test -- my first, ever -- and lock up my purse. No one asks me to tell my story, not yet, instead giving me a form to complete: "# of drinks per day" and "how often you use needles to administer your drug."

Sitting in the hallway, waiting for a room assignment, I practice different faces on the people who wander by. A perky smile for one (surely I'm not the first debutante to go to rehab) and a level gaze for another (I am an intellectual -- didn't Dorothy Parker get treatment?), a don't-fuck-with-me glare for the next. Nothing fits so I finally just look at the floor.

A recovery meeting is going on down the hall, so I enter a unit empty of patients except for one hysterical red-headed teen. My room is small but has a window that looks out on the haze of the smoking patio. When I stretch out on my back with my head against the window ledge I can just see the sky over the top of the tall concrete wall. I lie like this while the nurse gives me an injection, and I fall asleep while she's explaining the rec. room rules.

I awaken in the middle of night, not at all disoriented, I know instantly where I am. Panic turns my innards to ice as I reach blindly for the pills that are not there; I feel like I've dropped my rifle just as the lion charged. Then I do something I still can't explain: I drop to the floor and lay my forehead on the scratchy industrial carpet. I wonder for a moment if I'm going to pray, but instead I twist my head left and right and left again and right again and left. It's an animal act, mindless, disturbing. The nurse who stops by for room check isn't impressed.

"What are you doing on the floor?"

"I don't know."

"Okay. Have a good night."

We'll repeat this conversation two more times before I finally move back to the bed, holding a towel to my bloodied forehead, which stings like hell. The next morning I wake up early, before the 6 AM vital-signs check, and brave the smokers' patio, waving my forehead at them like gang insignia. They aren't impressed, either.

After that I refuse to leave my room for days. I will later learn that this is something of a feat: one after another counselors, nurses, doctors, file in and try to lever me out of bed. "I can't," I say. "I need to rest," as if the effort of sitting in the common room listening to a lecture is just too much. Weeks later patients will ask how I'd managed not to get evicted and I'll say, "What were they going to do? Carry me out?"

And so passes the first block of days without alcohol in my entire adult life. I don't notice this, or anything else. It's as if I've plucked my feathers and chopped off my wings and dropped my sails; I have no momentum, no will. Sometimes I flaunt the rules and sometimes I follow them; neither is a conscious decision. I am a one-celled creature, moving only as much as is needed to secure the barest sustenance. I live on graham crackers and coffee purloined from the break room when everyone else is gone.

Each day the nurses come and go, giving me lessening doses of the medicine that is easing me off of the drugs that had hijacked my body and refused to leave. That's what this feels like to me: hostage negotiations. I am given the text known as the 'big book' in recovery circles and devour its stories. It reads like fiction. As visiting day approaches, I memorize the book like a script, learning the words to say to appease my frightened family. I am powerless, I realize now that I have a disease; the counselors nod when I say these words so I know I am on the right track.

I feel calm enough, buoyed by the withdrawal medications they've given me. Five nights have passed and I have spoken only to my sister, asked only for news of my daughter. I have yet to speak to my husband, who faithfully calls the nurses' station every day for news. It's as close to oblivion as an all-vital-signs normal, healthy human being can achieve: protected, safe, womblike. I only begin to grasp the enormity of it all when I look in the metal mirror to brush my teeth and come face to face with the bandage covering my oozing forehead, white, the color of innocence but also of cowardice, of fog, of ghosts.


  1. This is poetry at its finest, especially this: Panic turns my innards to ice as I reach blindly for the pills that are not there; I feel like I've dropped my rifle just as the lion charged.

    I could feel it, the panic.

  2. OH, Robin. I didn't even realize I was holding my breath reading this until the end. So spectacularly honest and beautifully written.

    I remember that feeling of being switched off when I was in rehab, too. I love this:

    "It's as if I've plucked my feathers and chopped off my wings and dropped my sails; I have no momentum, no will."


    Thank you for sharing this - I want to read more and more so I hope you keep writing about this - either here or on your blog.

    Thank you.


  3. Beautifully written, simply gorgeous. I loved the single cell line, loved it.


  4. Amazing writing. This is really powerful stuff.

  5. This is beautifully written Robin. I know that you can't make me fixation all too well.

    I couldn't have one single sick day when I was in treatment. It would have meant automatic discharge.

  6. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. Yes, that would probably have worked for me, too, Hope. Or the threat of moving me across the hall to the ward for psych disorders, which may have been where I should have been anyway at the time.