By Robin. I blog, here and at Its Own Terms, to share my story, and to hear yours. Part One of Rehab Diaries is here. Part Two is here. Please stay in touch.
In my treatment center, there were cameras everywhere, even in the bathroom. They kept tasers in the nurses’ station and no one was allowed to go anywhere alone. The two huge steel doors that led in and out of the ward required remote sensors, and a 30-foot wall surrounded the smoking porch. While I was there one kid did manage to get about halfway up before losing his nerve.
In truth it wouldn't have been all that hard to escape. The nurses weren't that great at keeping track of where everyone was all the time and the burliest security guards were assigned to another ward, the one where they kept the really psychotic people. It wouldn’t have taken much effort to get around the ancient ladies who pushed our cafeteria cart in and out, three times a day. An accomplice would have made it almost too simple.
No, it was clear from the beginning that we were not held in by guards or by fences, really, but by our own booby-trapped minds.
Most of the time, of course, we didn't think about any of this. We were busy. We were awakened before 6:00 AM for morning vital signs -- no one ever figured out why they banged on our doors so early, it wasn’t like we had anywhere to go -- and our last group ended at dinner. In between, there was reading and journal writing and doctors' rounds and classes to teach us good sober habits. A few times a week we were taken outside onto the grounds for a miserable walk in the blazing sun and on Saturday nights they ordered in pizza -- can you imagine being that delivery guy? -- and rolled a movie.
Turns out sensations can keep you pretty occupied, too. Physically each of us was feeling either lousy or terrific, depending on the stage of detoxification we were experiencing. In addition to that kind of feeling we were dealing with emotions: dark, scary ones that hid around corners and under beds, teeth bared and claws unsheathed. Our counselors cheerfully nodded, pleased with our "progress," while we shook and moaned and raged and sobbed.
The last thing any of us felt was grateful to be sober. We might experience a twinge of gladness here and there because someone smiled at us for the first time in forever or because we had "three hots and a cot," as they say, but by and large we were so ambushed by sensations that the last thing anyone could imagine was staying that way. People do this -- feel -- on purpose? Stop talking crazy and someone get me a damned drink already.
Because that, you know, a drink, would do the trick, this much we each knew full well. We'd each lived -- forever, it felt like -- in our own airless prisons, trapped inside our heads with those dedicated jailers, Mr. Pain and Sgt. Fear. Never mind that we’d built the prisons ourselves, they’d been constructed under duress, like the guy in the movie who is forced to dig his own grave. Don’t bother asking why he does that if they’re going to kill him anyway; in that kind of situation you don’t think rationally.
So that, in case you were curious, is really the hardest first step toward sobriety. Not putting down the drink or asking for help or admitting you have a problem – after all, haven’t we all done those things, over and over and over, perhaps? No, the hardest first step is to stare down those prison walls, the ones you’ve built yourself, and knowing – accepting, really, because that’s all that will do it – accepting that no one can destroy them but their architect, namely you.
It’s knowing that you’re going to have to dig your way out with your bare hands, facing whatever demons your newly exposed brain wants to throw at you. And knowing that in doing so you’ll bleed and weep and stumble.
And it is knowing – accepting, really, ‘cause that’s all that will do it – accepting that you can do this because if you do not, if you cannot do this, there is no escape, no pardon, no other way out.