When I first got to rehab, I was stunned into silence. All those faces – the workers, the patients. They all looked so alert and attentive – ugh. The last thing I wanted to see. I remember the intake and I thought, ‘Don’t look at me with that patronizing smile.’ But I didn’t say anything. I barely spoke. Those first few days I kept to myself and stayed very quiet. I remember holding my arms close and tight around my body. I remained in a constant embrace of myself, as if letting go would mean people would then feel permission to talk to me, get in there, jumble up my brain with their platitudes and wholesomeness. They would misconstrue and think I wanted their opinion. I didn’t want their help. I knew what they wanted. They wanted to get between me and my alcohol and I thought ‘Uh huh. There’s no way you’re gonna make me. And besides, it’s not that bad. It was exaggerated. My family exaggerated how bad it was.’ People. People were my real problem and these people had a goal that seemed very simple: to keep me from the one thing that made being around people tolerable. I decided, ‘All I have to do is ride this out, get my family off my back and go home after 30 days. Done. Simple. You can talk to me. I’ll smile, sure, but you’re not getting anything else out of me.’
I missed my place, my friends, my job. Where was I? Who was I? I felt so utterly aware of myself. I’d look in the mirror and if I let myself look at myself for longer than a flash I seemed yellow, puffy, sad. That was it: I looked sad. If I hadn’t had a roommate I would have put a towel over the mirror.
And because I wasn’t really talking to anyone, I ended up listening. It was basically impossible not to but I was determined not to care, not to relate. Screw this. I would recite stuff in my head or think of a song that I could repeat over and over. That worked a bit. Especially at first. But then my head was so loud eventually I gave up and listened. There were some interesting people. It wasn’t all bad but still, I was determined. I’ll get out of here. This was a mistake. I’m not like you people.
A few weeks in, a woman came to visit and spoke to us. She was older than me and told us her story, what it was like when she drank. Even though she looked nothing like me and seemed so much more I don’t know, together and upbeat, from what she described, she definitely drank like me. Though she had this energy that I was drawn to, a brightness and easy smile. Which fascinated me because what she said was back when she drank she was in utter pain. A complete mess. Sloppy about relationships, about taking care of herself. She described a horrible accident. Debt. But none of that was enough, she said, to get her sober. It also wasn’t where the real pain laid for her. She talked about, as she put it, abject aloneness. She wasn’t always alone either. She would be drinking at parties drinking on vacations, drinking at dinner with friends. Still, it didn’t matter who she was with or where she was, deep inside, she felt like a failure, very alone, and when she thought about her life, she no longer wanted to go on.
She then told of the day someone stopped her. There was an intervention (which she resented, just like I did!) and she ended up at rehab. While there, she eventually admitted her suicidal thoughts to a counselor and the counselor told her, “If you kill yourself, you’d be killing the wrong person.” She wasn’t sure what that meant but it was the sort of thing that even though she didn’t quite get it, it gave her hope. It was as if she was suddenly ready to give rehab a serious try. Up until that moment she had glorified and glamorized her life back home. But if she was to be totally honest, if she returned without giving it a real chance, she’d be returning to the same old thing, the same bad feelings. Her and her bottle and the loneliness. I knew deep down, I just heard my story. I knew deep down, it was exactly the same for me.
After her visit, I started to loosen up my shoulders, and stop gripping onto myself so tightly. I was able to see maybe I didn’t know who I was and what I wanted, but I could be better, feel better. I could have some purpose. I didn’t need to off myself and make space for someone better than myself. I could just be a better me, with help. All that was required of me was that I be willing. What that looked like for me was I started to engage, be a part of things, admit that I was uncomfortable hearing my own voice but I was far more uncomfortable imagining being back in my old life. I wanted something more, something bigger, a life I felt I maybe could have. A life less alone.
So yeah, I started to talk. That was the big thing. I started to tell people my story, my feelings, my experience. Listening continued to serve its purpose, yes, but letting people in – that made me feel connected. I didn’t have to wrap my arms around my body so tightly anymore because I felt I was being held, by my friends in rehab. They understood my secrets – once I told them what they were! They had them, too. And they too wanted a bigger life, a better life. I wanted to be someone who had that light in her eyes, that effervescence I had seen with the woman who had come to speak to us. It all suddenly seemed possible.
That was eleven years ago. I can’t say every day in my life is perfect but I do believe when I look in the mirror, I seem relaxed, alive, alert, okay. I’m not hiding anything from anyone, and there are people in my life now, most of whom I don’t believe would be here, had I not done what I did and become willing. It’s true. You do become a draw for people who are attracted to your inner beauty and alcohol dims that beauty. It mutes it. It hides it and mars it and masks it. When I finally removed it and got help, I became something far greater than I could have ever imagined in that first week of rehab. I became a woman who actually loves herself, just like that woman who visited us that day. And now when I go to hug someone, it’s someone else. That makes me feel good.