On Deck Circle
An Entirely Other Day
In 1993 I spent nearly a month in an alcohol rehabilitation center. I talked a bit about the first few days on the anniversary of entry into treatment. Following is the story of the end.
Eight years ago today was my last day at the alcohol rehab center. I was in treatment for four weeks, the last day was, without question, the most important. I am convinced to this day the events that occurred on April 12, 1993 are a huge reason I am still sober now.
Staying sober in a treatment center really isn't that difficult, if it's what you want. There are support staff with you round the clock to keep an eye out. The doors aren't really locked, but they are. You are kept busy. Early wake up call; shower and breakfast; first morning group counseling session. They want to keep you on a rigid schedule saying it helps on the outside.
I learned a lot during that month in rehab, but I was taken care of. They fed us; they had regular, structured therapy; 12 step program participation; recreational activities to motivate physical health all with the goal of preparing you for living life sober back in the cruel real world. The medical physicians taught us of the disease concept of alcoholism. They drummed it in ... I even bought into it. Coming to grips with why I had been unable to stop drinking was easier to accept as a sickness, rather than a matter of personal moral bankruptcy.
Sending Me A Message
That last day began just like all the rest, but it quickly changed as we were sitting around the breakfast table. The 74 year old lawyer who had been with us the past four days in a detox bed had left against medical advice in the middle of the night. The morning paper said this former president of the state bar association had put a shotgun to his face and pulled the trigger. Lest there be any doubt about it, alcoholism is a terminal disease. If you don't kill yourself slowly through liver or other organ failure, the utter helplessness of the condition will cause desperate acts.
As we tried to pull ourselves together, the 69 year old former publisher of the city newspaper, the geezer with the wet brain, was wandering the halls looking for his shoes. "You mean the ones on your feet?", the nurse asked, as he looked sheepishly confused at the rest of us. He was on his way to the dinner party at the former governor's mansion, at 8 o'clock in the morning at least in his mind. Make no mistake, alcoholism is a progressive disease. Over time, it rips every fiber of sanity from the most lucid of individuals.
At 9:00AM group, this new guy, a fellow the same age as me, suddenly lurched forward and fell to the floor. His body began shaking violently as his eyes rolled back in his head. A withdrawal seizure, right there in the middle of the floor in the center of our group circle. Twenty minutes later the medical staff finally had him semi-alert and sitting up in a chair. This adventure would be repeated twice more by the same fellow on the same day. It isn't a pretty sight. Alcoholism is a painful physical addiction every bit as powerful as the strongest narcotic.
Later that evening, during outside visitation hour, the beautiful wife of one of our three week patients stopped in to say hi. This girl was drop-dead gorgeous ... except when she smiled. You see, she had no front teeth a gift from her abusive alcoholic husband who slammed his fist into her face during a drunken rage one night, because he said, "you're too sexy." That she was. Curves like fine geometry, eyes that mesmerized, and a toothless grin. Alcoholism is a family disease. It hurts the ones we love the most. Are you beginning to get the picture? I sure did.
It Isn't A Game
That night, as I lay in my plywood frame bed for the final time, I thought back to all the events of that last day and I cried. I was scared breathless. I didn't want to become like any of those other alcoholics, and ... they were making me leave in the morning. Sending me out into real life with "little more" than I entered rehab, or so it seemed. I prayed to God as I slowly drifted off to sleep. That "little more" would be my hope; that I had seen on this day everything I would become if I didn't begin living life on life's terms without alcohol.
They make a big deal when someone graduates from the treatment center. At 9:00 group they gave me a big copper coin to carry in my pocket. To me, it meant I had actually finished something I started. They go around the circle and everyone shares what your participation has meant to them. All the patients and staff give you big hugs and tears flow freely. Then they send you out the door, alone, without supervision. Oh, and they hand you the bill. Mine was $13,400.
Fortunately my insurance paid about $10,000 but I spent the next three years clearing the rest. Every month when I wrote the check to the hospital it was another good reminder. There would be punishing financial consequences in addition to everything else, if I didn't work hard to make staying sober my number one priority. It's the little tools and remembrances of what it was like that motivate me today. I can't ever forget my last drunk.
Learning To Walk
As I left the hospital with trepidation to begin my second life, my wife was waiting at the front door. On the drive home she told me she had moved back into our house. She had spent the previous four weeks repainting and cleaning up all the dirty memories and wreckage of the past. When we got there, everything looked beautiful. There was a big Welcome Home Jeff sign on the front porch. Our kids and good friends were waiting with huge smiles and grand hugs. We had a great celebration and I drank iced tea. It never tasted better.
I fell in love with Lynn all over again that day. She was a rock. Despite all the misery and torment I had inflicted upon her, she was there for me. She was there when I had to sit on my hands to stop the hurting. She was there to push me out the door every single night to meetings, even though it meant turning me loose. She even went with me to some open meetings. I am still sober today in large part because of her willingness to help me. She understood completely that I wasn't a bad person trying to get good, instead, I was a sick person trying to get well. You truly can go home again.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the
things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know
the difference. Amen.
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