“What day are you on?” Katie, my counselor asked me last night when we were on a break. The other folks in the night group had left to go smoke or walk to Wendy’s to grab a quick bite. I sat in the room with Katie, and my stomach was in knots. I was hungry, but the idea of food made me want to throw up. My hands kept clenching and unclenching; I huddled into my black jacket, even though I wasn’t cold.
“I’m on day sixteen,” I muttered.
“Ah,” Katie replied. “You’re in the rapids.”
I looked up at her, and I wasn’t quite sure I heard her. She told me again I was in the rapids, and I flashed back to being in Canada with my aunt when I was 18. We went on a mild rapids course, and I hated every second of it. I was never in danger, but water and I don’t play well together. I was up for trying something out of my comfort zone back then, and for some years that followed. Not so much anymore.
Katie went on to tell me that she felt horrible for the first three months of recovery, and that she was all over the place emotionally…so much so that she checked herself into a traditional, 28-day treatment center. I can’t exactly do that, and I’m glad I don’t have to, but there are moments during the day when I see the value.
We talked until the rest of the night group came back in from break. As I mentioned, I transitioned from days to nights, and I’ll meet with Katie and the group for six weeks, Monday through Thursday from 5:30-8:30. Three of the guys I got to know well from the day group joined me with the night class, but I don’t know the rest of the people. I was hesitant to share anything this past Monday, and Tuesday night during meditation, I began to deal with feelings and raw emotions and I said Whoa, now. Get back in the room. Come on, everyone, back in, you’ll be safe there and so will I. So I shut down and shut off for most of the rest of the night. I was present intellectually (when am I not?) but my feelings were locked away in my internal room.
Like Katie’s experience, my emotions are wide-spread and god-awful and overwhelming, especially when my mood stabilizer wears off and I have some free time. Today should be better because I teach four classes, but yesterday I was done at 12:30. I found myself alone in my office, and the feelings started attacking me all at once. Someone further down the road into recovery told me, “Man, when you get sober, everything you’ve been hiding or numbing out is going to fucking rush at you with claws.” He was right. So there I was with no magic pill and nothing but my thoughts and emotions. Soon, the thoughts disappeared and I was left alone in the quagmire. I didn’t want to drink, but I wanted to put a fucking stranglehold on all my feelings until the quit bothering me and went away.
Healthy thought? No, but it’s understandable. When I get like that, I’m like a wounded animal. My ability to think rationally is out the window, and I’m relying on the oldest part of my brain that generally cues up the body to fight or run away, but for addicts and alcoholics, the signal is to drink or use. I couldn’t drink, so my only other option is to run away further and further into myself. Even before I entered treatment, if I encountered stress and I couldn’t drink, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was doing my best to escape and leaving the rest of me on auto-pilot. I’m worried that I don’t have the ability to change my behavior, though Katie and the group assures me I do. Still, the recovery rate for alcoholics and addicts is, according to Katie, somewhere around 25 percent. Yikes.
A new fellow to the night group, Clark, said last night, “You know, I love roller-coasters, but I want to get off this one. I just want things to go back to normal. I want just one week where it’s normal.”
One week? I thought, I’ll take a day. Hell, half-a-day.
My name is Robert, and I’m an alcoholic. This is my 17th day of sobriety. My goal for today and tonight is simple: go to bed sober. I’m sure I’ll have mini-panic attacks, crippling self-doubt, soul-crushing pain, and a whole host of terrible, internal things. I think I’m up to the task.