Birthdays are tough since Ma died. She made such a big deal out of it, and the holidays AND EVERYTHING since I was a wee boy. There was always magic in everything she did. There was always Ma... until there wasn't. When we lost Ma I lost my sense of home. I have felt like an alien almost everywhere since. It's never more pronounced than when I am at some kind of family function or celebration of some kind. I feel like I don't really belong anywhere, there's no permanent dock, just temporary harbor, both literal and emotional. This isn't anyone's fault but my own, I have so many wonderful people who care about and support me. Nobody has made me feel unwelcome in any way, it's me.
Five years ago today I was nearing the end of a 20 day bender. I was slowly withdrawing from graduate school, withdrawing from my job as a counselor for adults with disabilities, withdrawing from my relationship, from my family... from life. My universe was breaking apart like that horrible scene in The Never Ending Story. I was waiting to die.
I woke up bleary eyed and shaking on October 23rd, 2008. It had been 5 hours or so since my last drink and I could feel the tingling, itchy sweat begin to seep slowly out of my cold and malnourished body. I splashed some hot water on my face and let it run on my freezing hands. I was trying not to panic. I looked for hidden bottles in the usual places, in the drop ceiling, a washed out container of bleach in the garage, taped to the underside of the couch. And then the unusual places, the backyard behind the tree, the attic... the fridge. I even knocked on my neighbors door. Then I checked the place where I would sometimes hide the treasure map I would make for myself when I would hide bottles while drunk. (I can tell you as a desperate alcoholic there's nothing more maddening that entering the early stages of withdrawal knowing full well you'd come up with some clever new hiding spot that nobody could possibly find... even you... and having no other memory of it's location other than, "it's phenomenal.") I found nothing... except my hidden wallet. I grabbed my stuff and went to the store. That feeling of relief associated with getting your hands on some liquor as you begin to enter detox is both gratifying and sickening. I spent the rest of the day in and out, pouring one bottle of 18 year Chivas down my throat, followed by two 12 year bottles. My girlfriend at the time had come home after work to find me awake and seemingly alright. She would later tell me that she turned around once and saw a nearly full bottle and a few minutes later an empty one and that not long after I collapsed and could not be awakened. She called 911 and naturally the police were the first on the scene. I have no memory of what transpired, but evidently I went full blown rhinoceros when I saw the police and had to be subdued and tranquilized. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital where I was strapped to a bed and given several bags of fluids. I recall being told that I was .48 and would not be released until I agreed to treatment. I was released that night after proving I could ambulate and my girlfriend took me home. I was drinking the next morning. I was about to spend 7 excruciating days in a locked psych ward for detox and the next 4 months in a wonderful residential treatment center called The Herrington Recovery Center in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
Obviously I haven't been sober since I got out of treatment in 2009, but it's not for a lack of desire. There has been plenty of horror since, but today I am sober and I am grateful. My life is so different now than it was then. I went from having every academic and material thing I wanted to having none of them. I have no money, a crippling tax debt that seems largely unfixable, a horribly paying job at a local charity, no concrete plans to complete my Master's Degree, I'm mostly dependent on others... but, I am almost wholly, in a better place than I was then. I'm not just waiting to die. There's real, solid emotional momentum building. Someone asked me today, "If you could have anything you wanted for your birthday, what would it be?" and without even a though I said, "my independence." I won't be down forever, I know that... but this tunnel has been long and dark, I see some light now.
I guess the whole purpose of this post is to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of this recovery with me, followed along, discussed it with me via one forum or another, cheered for me, held my hand, patted my back, challenged me... even abandoned me. Just thank you for everything. For giving a damn, even when I'm a surly, grumpy, unfunny, know-it-all bastard. If there's anything I can do to repay the support and love shown to me over the last five years... well... I will at the very least express a desire to wish that it were possible. I will... metaphysically, repay you. With... quarks and... chakras?
It occurred to me the other day that there will never be a time when we are appreciated more than the day we are a cold sack of hamburger laying in a fucking box. I want to try to show some gratitude for people more... you know, before they're dead as the creative part of my brain has become (I offer this very simile as proof).