In June of 2010, the left side of my body had went numb so I ended up in a hospital. I was getting fluids intravenously due to excessive drinking and was feeling a lot better. While it was a scary-fancy way to cure a hangover, I was all ready to get my shit together (this time I mean it!) when a doctor told me that a bed opened up in Plymouth, MA at High Point Treatment Center. I pretended like I was excited knowing full well that I would return home and avoid such madness. I told the doctor that I would surely get there on my own.
He was very serious and told me, “No, we need to transport you from here.”
I probably had a choice in the matter but was too delusional to think I did, so I braced myself for what would be detox facility numero uno. Thirty minutes later, I was being wheeled out through the halls in a stretcher, completely sober, while bystanders wondered what was going on. They put me in an ambulance where a latino man asked me if I had thoughts of hurting myself. I told him ‘of course not’ and he apologized for asking a standard question. I specifically remember the long ride from Dorchester to Plymouth, staring out at the traffic. I later received a $696.00 bill for the luxurious ambulance escort.
There were many things I remember about that first detox stint but a man named Jeff–or so I think that was his name–is the reason 7 years means something to me.
There were all sorts of characters at this detox facility. There was a nice-looking heroin addict that I met (my first!) who taught me that you could get into a detox simply by telling them you were suicidal. He’d done it dozens of times. There were a few strippers who were making a pit stop and there was the first person I ever saw with real-life wet-brain. It’s a real thing and it’s sad.
And then there was Jeff, a 40-something year old man who was quiet and sad.
We were all in a common room and I did what I assume most people do at detox. You try to learn about the people and stories that got them to this place. It was like meeting all the new campers at soccer camp except nobody played soccer and nobody really knew why they came to camp.
Jeff wasn’t socializing with anyone there. He genuinely looked befuddled. There’s a cliche in the recovery world, that stems from the Big Book, that talks about how cunning and baffling alcohol is. Jeff personified this cliche. He told me he had relapsed after being sober for 7 years. Now, I was someone who couldn’t stay sober for 12 hours so the concept of relapsing wasn’t strange to me. But after 7 years? You found a way to stay sober for 7 years and then what?
Jeff confirmed another experiential cliche you hear about that says alcoholism is a progressive disease. It doesn’t stop when you stop. It’s not like lungs that clear up and repair themselves after you quit smoking. When you stop drinking for 7 years, it doesn’t take you 7 more years to get to the place you were at your lowest. Jeff told me that within 10 days he was drinking as much, or more, than he ever was.
He didn’t need a year to get back into drinking shape. His body and mind were ready to go whenever he was ready to let go. He let go, and while I can’t remember his facial features, I do remember how dejected he felt.
August 27ths in most ways, are just ordinary days but I’m grateful that they’re ordinary. I’m not checking days off of a calendar, hanging on for dear life while the people close to me wonder if today is the day I go off the deep end. I don’t think about days sober. I pour glasses of wine for my fiance and I go to places where people’s primary objective is to get hammered. I don’t hide from these things.
Jeff isn’t the only reason to celebrate this lifestyle turnaround. There are many reasons and people behind it. But for this year–year number 7–I’m drinking a Dunkin’ cold brew for Jeff who I hope is far, far away from Plymouth, MA right now.