Monday, August 16, 2010

What a Difference a Year Makes

I drove onto campus today to make copies of my syllabus, gather materials for the first day of classes, and to post my door card. On the way in, it occurred to me how things were so very different this time last year. I'd just gotten back from a weekend bender at Del Mar, having spent the last night hunched over the sink in the bathroom puking my guts out and having Chelle tuck me into bed, frustrated and angry at me.

Classes started. The second week, I missed a day because I was too hungover. The third week, I called in sick again on Monday.

That Sunday night, I'd gone on another bender, and I don't remember much of it. I was acting out in horrible ways. I called a friend in another state--a person with whom I was having a kind of long-distance affair--and begged her to come get me. I don't remember much of that conversation. Sometime after I hung up, I somehow made the decision to go to rehab. Maybe it's because a part of me recognized that my life had spun out of control. Maybe it's because it dawned on me that the hell I wanted to be rescued from had nothing to do with Chelle, or my work here, but everything to do with my drinking. I honestly have no idea HOW I came to make that decision.

Another part of me says it wasn't even me. It was my angels, my mother, my Higher Power--something out there in the Universe, anything but ME--that put sense into my head. Who makes a decision like that when they're in a complete blackout?

When I woke up the next morning, I remembered nothing, EXCEPT that I'd decided to go to rehab and get help.

So Monday I called in sick as Chelle checked around, made calls, got me connected with Mountain Vista Farm. What remained was for me to actually pull the trigger... to commit to the program and take the time off work, which would mean telling my boss I had an alcohol addiction and needed help.

It was scary. I had no idea how the Dean would respond to me.

I considered: I'd missed several days of work, but I could make up some lie to cover my ass. I could try (again!) to cut back on the drinking and just get on with my life. No one would ever need to know I'd had a meltdown and practically tossed everyone I loved and everything I had into the breeze.

But I considered again. How many repeats of this was it going to take? I'd only been getting worse over the years. Sometimes I'd clean up my act for a short while, but always, always, I went right back down the tubes.

It was time to pull the trigger. It was after 5:00, so I emailed my boss a quick explanation and told her I'd call her first thing in the morning.

My boss was still at work. She immediately shot me an email back, saying: "Thank you for telling me this. You are doing the right thing. Yes, let's talk in the morning."

I got six weeks off, paid, to check into rehab that Thursday and get sober. My boss and the department secretary both hugged me and wished me well. Off to the Farm I went, nervous as all get-out. I had a last "goodbye" binge that Wednesday night, drinking a few Belgian beers and a couple bottles of wine. I went to bed around midnight, not feeling particularly drunk. When I checked into rehab around 11am the next morning, I nevertheless blew a .04. Still metabolizing.

Detox wasn't too awful for me. I did have occasional DT's (shakes) sometimes after long benders, but shaking hadn't been an everyday thing for me. I tremored only a little during detox. The biggest concern was my blood pressure. It was pretty high for the first three or four days. But then it normalized. I was lucky. For most of my drinking career, I wasn't the kind to do hair of the dog, and it wasn't until the last year or so that I would sometimes drink a Bloody Mary before noon on the weekend if I was a bit hung. My physical dependency consequently wasn't as bad as some who suffered through withdrawals while I was at the Farm.

I look at a friend of mine now who is in utter denial about her alcoholism and has DTs worse than I ever had, but she explains the shakes away the same way I used to: "It's low blood sugar. I haven't eaten yet today."

No, hon. People notice it. People talk about it. You are withdrawing. You are addicted to alcohol, and you have delirium tremens. Keep it up, and one day you'll be seeing pink elephants.

Anyway, all of this was on my mind as I drove onto campus. The campus has gotten a bit of a facelift over the past year, with some new buildings being completed, the roadways repaved and new speed bumps installed, new signage.

And so I see that I, too, have gotten a facelift. I look better; I feel better. My brain is clear. My life is great. You just don't realize how bad you are when you're in the middle of it. But once an addict gets sober, you come to realize how shitty you actually felt all the time. The solution of drinking more booze to make it all feel better had the exact opposite effect.

Last spring semester was one of my best teaching semesters ever. It showed. Students routinely came by my office, if not for help, then just to chat. One stopped by the Writing Center over the summer just to say hello. I was never a bad teacher, but now I'm a good, AWAKE teacher.

This year starts my first full year sober. For the first time in a long time, I'm off not just alcohol, but all anti-anxiety medication as well. And I don't feel afraid. I feel strong and am looking forward to the year, to meeting my new students.

What a difference a year makes.

September 4, 2010 will be my one-year sobriety date.


Shannon said...

Powerfully written - I am so proud of you and the courage it took to do this. Stay strong and remember that you have a lot of us to lean on when things get tough.

Joyce said...

Thanks, Shannon. I appreciate your saying that. It's also good to know I have a good network of friends now who are just as committed to my sobriety as I am. The day will come that I'm tempted to drink for some reason--a crisis, dishonesty with self, something. And you can bet I'll be seeking you out. :)

Tedi Trindle said...

Harold is clearly looking out for you, too. :)

Joyce said...

Okay, I'll bite. Who on earth is Harold? Is this an AA joke I haven't heard yet? LOL

Karl Boyken said...

Joyce, congratulations! I hope you have many more awake years ahead of you.

Joyce said...

Thanks, Karl!

Krissy Knezevich said...

Everything happens for a reason, Joyce. It was your time to get straight, and you found the strength to do that. Congratulations on hitting your year! Thank you for sharing that with us here. It gives me the inspiration I need to be more open about myself, just about different things.

Joyce said...

Totally, Krissy! Your blog will be awesome and inspiring, I feel sure.