Will You Call Me?

What frightened me about Robin Williams’s death was that he died alone.

When I am hurt, like a vulnerable, wounded animal, I fear predation. I hide.

I am afraid that – without awareness or consciousness – I will cross the line from being able to handle, alone, distress from the challenges I face, to not being able to handle it.

“Why didn’t you call me?!” is a question I have been asked over and over again in the past 19 months.

The whole point of being a member of a recovery community is not having to handle distress alone.

But making that phone call…

Help through Doodle

Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s best friend, accidentally curses himself with the Slug-vomiting Charm. Without having meant to, without having any control over what’s happening or how long it’s going to happen, he vomits up slugs. Hagrid hands him a basin and Harry and Hermione keep Ron company until the spell passes.

That’s the best metaphor I can come up with to describe the visceral experience of sorrow that overwhelms me and what feels like a physical inability to reach out for help. I can only vomit pain. For various reasons I won’t go into here, I learned to vomit alone and to clean up after myself so no trace remained.

But my lonely little heart longs for Hagrid and Harry and Hermione’s company. Maybe just be with me for a little while? I’ll clean up after myself, I promise. The slugs take my breath away.

Who wouldn’t want a drink to take that away?

For me, the “spells” happen without warning. Yet Lance Dodes asserts that if I can practice “sophisticated self-awareness,” I might be able to identify the thoughts and feelings that foretell the possibility of a future drink.

August 27, 2014, the day before I turn 20 months sober, will be the the 3-year anniversary of my mother’s death.

Yes, I hear, “I don’t do anniversaries” and “Anniversaries are constructs.” I am smart and rational and I sense, before I have a moment of smartness or rationality, that some time on August 26, in spite of my best intentions to be present for my feelings and thoughts and present for those I care about, I’ll begin to weep and be unable to stop.

I should make myself call this time. I should use my willpower to force myself to reach out.

It won’t happen. I’m a work in progress and that is progress I have not made work.

Last August, I grieved alone at 8 months sober. I feel currents of fear running up my arms just thinking about it.

I wrote my mother a letter last week. Unsendable. Where did that come from?!

Today, a week out, a part of me thinks I’m fine, I’m over-reacting, over-dramatizing. People’s mothers die, Anne. They handle it just fine. You’re anticipating the worst, you’re making it worse than it has to be, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Get over it. Get over yourself.

I just have a feeling this isn’t going to go very well.

(Write it!)

Will you call me?

(I feel skinned when I write that.)

I set up a Doodle with the times I think I’ll be suffering. I believe the spell will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Last year, it was about 48 hours.

Will you sign up to call me? It’s anonymous so your name won’t be visible to others.

You may hear miserable, slimy slugs of pain, unceasing, dropping into your ear. “Better out than in,” I’ve heard. Yikes.

If I don’t pick up, will you leave me an encouraging message?

If I do pick up, will you just listen? Without judgment, without advice? If I’m silent, will you please just say encouraging things? I probably won’t even remember what you said. I will remember the cool compress of your kind words on my hot face.

And I will not be allowed to be alone.

Are You Okay?!

Yesterday, I posted a link to The Battle to Stay Sane and Sober on Facebook.

A link and a comment on Facebook

I got a phone call, texts, and Facebook messages expressing the most wonderful support and concern.

“Are you all right?!” I was asked.

Thank you for asking. More yes than no. I was asked what scared me. I am pondering and will share.

I posted a version of this follow-up comment on Facebook:

The essence of what I’m trying to say is this: I feel better when I drink wine every night. I haven’t had wine or beer or a drop of alcohol for 19 months. It makes sense that I’m not going to feel very good.

I am working, most days to exhaustion, to not drink and to find out what made me drink, and to find alternatives to drinking that soothe me like wine did. I, honestly, have not a doubt that I will find those ways and that my story will, some day, be one of transformation, redemption, perhaps as Anne Lamott writes, a resurrection story. Whatever. I cannot will that, however.

I have to just go through this. I am openly going through this by publishing my story on my blog. I am one of more than 15,000 people in and around our town estimated to have a drinking or drug problem.

Multiply my struggle by 15,000.

Maybe hug your local alcoholic or addict today?

The Battle to Stay Sane and Sober

When I first heard of Robin Williams’s death, I felt natural shock and grief. My first thought was, “Oh, no! Co-occurring got him!”

I debate how to write my recovery story. Do I write from within about what it’s like to be me, do I write from without and observe myself being me and comment as a mental health and addictions counselor, or do I write editorially about the insanity of the lack of consensus about addictions treatment and the lack of addictions treatment in rural areas?!

It's a battle to stay clean and soberI don’t know. This one’s a mix of the first two. Here goes.

If I understand correctly from news sources, Robin Williams struggled with depression and addiction. In clinical circles, he would be considered to have co-occurring disorders, i.e. substance use disorders (in his case, cocaine and alcohol) and mental disorders (depression) at the same time. (This poignant piece from The Washington Times adds physical illness to the burdens Williams carried.)

Combinations of co-occurring disorders I have seen often are substance use disorder with meth and marijuana paired with bipolar disorder and PTSD; prescription drugs paired with depression; alcohol paired with anxiety and trauma. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has a mix and match list here.

Williams reported times in rehab and periods of abstention from alcohol and cocaine. In July of this year, he reportedly checked himself into a “renewal center.” CBS speculates about what that might have meant.

This is the statistic I seek. I and others have found numbers like these, but not this one:

____ % of those in the U.S. with substance use disorders have co-occurring disorders, i.e. substance use disorder(s) + mental disorder(s)

My personal statistic is 100%. Those I have worked with who have one or more substance use disorders have mental health challenges. Many of them find relief from the mental health challenge from using substances – to which they eventually become addicted.

I know I did.

I shared in personal terms what went down for me in 2007. And I shared the development of my increased use of alcohol here.

It doesn’t take a Hazelden Drug Czar to diagnose me with trauma-induced alcoholism.

So I’m in recovery from alcoholism and from trauma. From co-occurring disorders.

I wrote a post early Tuesday morning on what it’s like to have my inner life. I had not yet heard of Robin Williams’s death.

The absolutely most excruciatingly difficult part of recovering from addiction is handling the feelings and thoughts that line up like soldiers during abstinence. Craving? Ha, that’s only the skinny drummer boy in my list of challengers.

When I was drinking wine, what bothers me was in a state of détente. Wine commanded a cease-fire. No wine? There’s war. And most of the 24 hours a day of each day that I am attempting to recover from addiction, I am alone. I’m trying everything I can – whispering in the soldiers’ ears, shouting at them, waving a sword, trying every weapon the T2 used. What will make them stop and talk?!

I cannot know what state of use or abstention Robin Williams was in, or what he was feeling and thinking when he killed himself. I do know what happens to my feelings and thoughts when I abstain. So far, I’ve been able to bear the inner war, as have the people I work with every day.

My work in the addictions field is young. I have yet to know someone personally with an addiction who has committed suicide. But I will. The war can turn to apocalypse.

Today, I Wish for Recovery Bingo

I would love to drive over today to the community recreation center for the Tuesday 10:00 AM bingo game for people in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction.

Wishing to play bingo with people in recoveryI would go early and get there by 9:30 AM. I’d park my car beside the cars of others at the rec enter – people working out, playing bridge, doing t’ai chi – and greet the desk attendant I’m convinced is a former professional women’s basketball player, but she still says no. I’d enter a room set aside and scheduled for recovery bingo. I’d see coffee urns for regular and decaf and maybe a plate of zucchini bread baked by one of the players. I would have a cup of half decaf and half regular with powdered creamer and a slice of zucchini bread on a paper towel and talk congenially with the people there.

About a half hour talking with people in a group is about all I can do for now before I start to feel a sheen of panicky sweat on my skin. That’s why I timed my arrival for 9:30, thirty minutes before the game would begin. Others would choose to arrive at 9:00 to set up because they’re feeling okay today being in groups of people. Others would arrive at 9:59 and slip into a seat because that’s what they need, for now, to feel grounded and calm.

And then the game, blissfully, would begin. I would sit side-by-side with people like I am, who struggle not to drink alcohol or use drugs. Ahhh… A low-key, structured activity that gives me a chance to rest my heart and mind, if only for an hour or two, in the company of others. I would not have to be alone with what threatens my sanity and serenity and makes me want a glass of wine to un-threaten me.

The absolutely most excruciatingly difficult part of recovering from addiction is handling the feelings and thoughts that line up like soldiers during abstinence. Craving? Ha, that’s only the skinny drummer boy in my list of challengers.

When I was drinking wine, what bothers me was in a state of détente. Wine commanded a cease-fire. No wine? There’s war. And most of the 24 hours a day of each day that I am attempting to recover from addiction, I am alone. I’m trying everything I can – whispering in the soldiers’ ears, shouting at them, waving a sword, trying every weapon the T2 used. What will make them stop and talk?!

It’s exhausting.

If I could just go to a friendly game of bingo with other people with battles in their hearts and minds and souls or wherever this bitter encounter is happening, what a respite that would be.

I want to walk in, or stumble in if that’s all I can do, and sit companionably with others who aren’t telling me to get over it, that it’s in my mind, that all I need to do is change my thinking, to use my will power, to envision the consequences, who aren’t trying this or that controversial addiction treatment on me (which aren’t defensively debated?!).  I just want to sit quietly with people who have earnestly tried all that to no avail and just rest a minute.

But there is no recovery bingo game at the rec center.

I’m too tired to organize it. Contacting the rec center, finding a time and a room, paying for the rental, getting the bingo game, getting the coffee, setting up, taking down, oh, I feel like crying just thinking about it.

And even if I could muster the wherewithal to organize it, if the townspeople knew recovering alcoholics and addicts were playing bingo every Tuesday at 10:00 at the rec center, they’d probably stage a protest. Who we are and what we’re trying to do won’t count. Because of how contemptuously and fearfully addiction is perceived, the only chips we’re allowed in the present are our acts from the past.

Acknowledging in public that I’ve been in recovery from addiction to alcohol, now 19 months, was a difficult decision to make, still questionable. I have already experienced some mild consequences of the stigma attached to alcoholism and addiction and wonder what others await me. But I am only one of an estimated over 15,000 people in my locale with an alcohol or drug problem. Maybe someday we won’t have to battle addiction alone, or gather like guerrillas in secret support groups, but will need to rent a conference center to hold a peaceful, local recovery bingo game.

But, today, I’m all alone and writing this.

What If

What if I weren’t an alcoholic, but had alcoholism?

What if alcoholism – an inability to stop drinking and stay stopped – was not a mental disorder that I had brought on myself through lack of character and will power, but, as Lance Dodes asserts, the symptom of a psychological problem that developed over time?

What if, with help, I could identify that psychological problem?

What if, with help, I could solve and heal that problem?

Photo of dewdrops by Nancy BrauerWouldn’t that mean that the symptom of the psychological problem – addiction to alcohol – would no longer soak my soul but inevitably evaporate like raindrops and tears?

If that were the case, then I wouldn’t have to grieve beyond bearing addiction dissolving a part of my self. My self would be intact.

I wouldn’t have to feel terrible shame and guilt for letting myself become an alcoholic being. Alcoholism wouldn’t be something I was but something I was doing as a result of a psychological problem.

In your company, I wouldn’t have to feel small, diminished, one-down, lessened, apologetic. I wouldn’t have to think, “I’m so sorry. You used to get the whole me and now I’m only partial. I know I am so disappointing.”

And when we’re together or in the same room together, if I experience you as perceiving yourself in the company of a pitiful invalid, or as distancing yourself from a tainted pariah, I could feel compassion.

I used to think that way, too.

Photo by Nancy Brauer