Upon my departure from the psychiatric hospital I was 95% positive I would never pick up a drink again. Two weeks later I was convinced I was cured. One week after that divine intervention I was certain I could control my drinking. I was of sound mind and body. I defeated my foe. I was NOT powerless over alcohol.
I vividly remember picking up that glass. The disappointment on my wife’s face. It was just one drink that night. Within a month I was drinking every day, all day. I was black out drunk by 6pm every day, I quit my job over an email I didn’t care for. I was simply spiraling out of control. Coincidentally, the outpatient facility I was going to reached out the morning after I quit my job to check up on me. I had not shown up in several weeks. They immediately put me in touch with the local office.
“Why are you driving an hour out of your way to go to the office in Saranac?” the concerned lady on the phone asked.
“I am a respected member of the community. I can’t been seen walking into a rehab center in my own backyard. Its on main street for Christ’s sakes.” I said. In truth, I was not a respected member of anything. I worked out of town and hardly anybody knew who I was. It was all in my head. I wanted to be a respected member of the community. At least no one knew what a mess I was. I took a little comfort in that thought.
“There is a side door you can enter. With no signs on it. Use that door if you are worried about being seen. And the director of the office has agreed to council you personally.” she said.
“That’s more like it! I certainly deserve special treatment. I am a professional and a respected member of the community” I thought to myself. “Alright. When is the appointment?” I asked.
The next morning I walked through the front door of the rehab center.
“You must be Henry?” the office manager said greeting me at the entrance. “Please come in my office here. I need you to fill out some paper work before you meet with Lisa.”
“Ok” I said reluctantly. The papers were shaking in my hands. “What’s wrong with these papers?” I thought, then realized I was starting to have withdrawals. I hadn’t drank that morning because I wanted to look presentable for my appointment. I don’t think I pulled it off. I started to read the papers ‘How long have you been drinking? How much do you drink a day? Is there anyone in your family…’.
“Oh my God” I thought “Not again”. Looking at the young lady in the office, I said “I filled this out in Saranac.”
“I am sorry, but we need our own paperwork for this office” she said.
“Can’t you just transfer the paperwork? Fax it?” I asked. The look on her face told me no. So I started filling out the paperwork. Tried filling out the paperwork. My hands were shaking so bad I could barely write.
I women came into the office with a big smile. She was in her 50s. A tiny women about 5ft tall and 80lbs. She was well dressed, full make up and styled hair. “You must be Henry? I am Lisa and will be meeting with you today.” she said. Before I could reply she looked at the papers in my hands in shock and said “You can fill those out later. You’ve probably filled those out a hundred times already. Its not important right now.” She won me over right then and there. I wanted to hug her.
On the far end of her office was her desk and a couple of matching chairs. On the near side was table surrounded by metal chairs, where I assumed group meetings were held. We sat in the metal chairs facing each other, not at the table but beside the table. She took my hands in her’s and looked intently into my eyes. “I can see you are in pain. Spinning out of control. I want you to know I can help you.” she said. “I have been a hairdresser for over 20 years.” The sincerity in her words was touching.
Of course I was shocked. I sat back in alarm and said “No! No! This wont work! This isn’t going to work!”
“Why Henry? I have spent years listening to people’s problems and giving advice. I know people. I can help you.” she pleaded.
“Its not that. It’s…It’s….I’m BALD! How is this going to work? I am bald.”
She laughed and slapped my knee as punishment. It really didn’t bother me that she had spent most of her career as a hairdresser and is now a counseling drug and alcohol addicts. Lots of people change careers. Although, in hindsight I probably should have looked into her credentials at least a little.
“Ok Henry. The first thing we have to do is get you stable. You are mentally and emotionally erratic, make drastic decisions, and we have to get that under control. If we don’t, counseling will be useless. We need to get you some kind of medication to stabilize you.” she advised. I thought “Wow! I am impressed. She really knows what she is doing. A take action kind of person.”
“Now, there is one psychiatrist in town. She is a child psychologist but has recently started seeing adults. I have been working with her for years and I know she can prescribe something to help you. I am calling her right now to make you an appointment.” she advised.
“Wow! Taking action! No bull here. I really like this lady! Wait, did she say child psychologist? Is she a former hairdresser too?” I thought.
Her office was in her house. It was a light blue little ranch house just off main street, a couple of blocks from the addiction center. The sign on the front door said “Please Enter”. In the entrance way there was another sign “Please take your shoes and socks off and put on clean socks”. There was a stack of folded white gym socks on a counter. I sat on the bench and did as instructed.
I rang the doorbell, as instructed by yet another sign, and was quickly met by a tall slender women in her late 50s. She was probably 6ft tall and had wild white hair in the style of Einstein or Doc from “Back to the Future”. She had a pleasant face and a nice smile. I followed her back to her office in my new socks. It was very neat and clean. Her diploma from Johns Hopkins University hung on the wall behind her desk. A child’s play station sat on a small table on the far wall.
She asked me to explain my history and what lead up to my being there. I ran through my history and recent events very succinctly. I was getting good at it. When I got to the recent events consisting of suicidal thoughts, the psychiatric hospital, and the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, she tilted her head back with a hearty laugh. Not the reaction I was expecting. “Bipolar people rarely commit suicide.” she said. “OooooKayyyy” I thought, “this is weird”.
She went on to explain to me how bad alcohol was for you. How it changes the chemistry of your brain. Its technically a poison and will slowly kill you. I politely nodded throughout. Once in awhile I acted surprised, like it was something I’ve not heard before, like it really hit home. I don’t know why I do that. I guess I want people to feel like they are doing a good job. It doesn’t matter what the situation is. Dealing with a psychiatrist or a tool both attendant, I want them to feel valued. Does that make me an asshole? I hope not. It’s not something I do to be condescending. Its just habit.
To drive home the horrors of alcohol, she told me a story. A story to scare me sober, I assume. The story went something like this:
“My husband spent 2 years living with the Inuit people in northern Alaska. There was one couple in particular that he grew familiar with. The husband was well known to be an alcoholic. An angry alcoholic. When he wasn’t drinking he and his wife seemed to have a loving relationship. When he was drinking, their arguments were heard throughout the community. These fights occurred on a regular basis.
One morning the man woke up in a jailcell. When the jailor checked in on him, he knew why he was there and asked the jailor ‘I killed her, didn’t I?’. He had. He shot her with a shot gun in the middle of one their fights. Their last fight. He didn’t remember doing it, but he knew he had without anyone telling him”– As told to me by my child psychologist
I stared at her with large eyes. It truly was a sad and shocking story. She leaned in and said to me in very somber tone “Do you want that to happen to you?”
“No! No! I don’t want that to happen to me!” I exclaimed. “I don’t want to kill an Inuit women in northern Alaska. Or southern Alaska. Not even in Alberta. Or Seattle. Oregon?… well… I will have to think about that. They are kind of pretentious there.” Ok, I didn’t say that exactly but I was a little bewildered and confused.
“Think about this story whenever you want to have a drink. Alright?” she said. I ensured her I would. I thanked her for talking with me, the explanations, the story, and everything I could think of. She wrote a prescription for me and walked me out to the entrance. I changed back into my own smelly socks and shoes. She did have nice socks, I will give her that.