Fiddlers (n) - Local jargon/Boontling for Delerium Tremens
This post is a retrospective on my first year of alcoholism and addiction and recovery. This is/was not an easy post to write. I hope by sharing what has occurred to me in the past year that I may potentially save even one other person out there. If I can, then what I went through was absolutely worth it.
Graphic and gross depictions of various health and addiction issues are detailed here, so proceed with caution, but without them I cannot express the dangers of this disease accurately, and in that I would not be able to warn others sufficiently as to what will happen to you too if you should find yourself in this situation.
At roughly 4 am on July 1st 2015, I finally came to and broke down after wandering about my house in a 3-day long blackout and had my grandmother call an ambulance. I struggled to dress myself and pack a bag with my wallet, insurance card, and a couple games/books in case. I had to crawl to the bathroom and then crawl down the hall to pound on the door to my grandmother's bedroom, as I was unable to stand, let alone walk, in my condition. I told her I needed an ambulance. She obliged. One was there shortly and whisked me away to a nearby Catholic hospital where I tried to pass off my severe and near lethal levels of inebriation off as complications from a possible concussion from falling out of bed in my sleep. I had been trying to use this excuse with my own family to disguise the fact I had been binge drinking and it was progressing to infinitely worse levels day to day. I am glad now nobody believed me. My transmom was prepared to call an ambulance on me within that same day if I had not.
The week or so before this, something in me snapped, mentally, and in stress and rage caused by family issues/drama, I began to drink in excess in secret. I was limited to two drinks a day of any kind by my girlfriend who knew of my history of addiction and withdrawal issues and wanted to stop the pattern there. It didn't work. I stole others' booze, made up reasons why I suddenly needed to buy more, and it progressed to a point only hard liquor was keeping the shakes and nausea and unease at bay; not even chugging large strong beers or wine would do more than take the faintest hint of edge off. I thought if I stayed hydrated and drank water or juice I'd be able to process it fine. When I got the sweats and shakes, I went out in my yard, often at bizarre times like 2 am, and paced in circles for an hour or two as I began to hallucinate and grow paranoid of what was in my yard; I swore I saw swarms of deer and assassins constantly, especially when I was in bed in the dark and shut my eyes.
At the end, I was going through nearly a gallon of vodka in a 48 hour span. It went from two shots to that in that short of a time. I am not proud.
If I had been honest with the doctor, I would have received treatment much quicker, but since I tried to pass it off as a head injury, I was subjected to almost 7 hours of tests and scans before my bloodwork came back and my assigned doctor came in in a huff and tried his best to talk to me rationally, but I could hear the anger and concern in his voice. At this time, withdrawl had kicked in full throttle (it only takes 2-6 hours for it to do so with alcohol) and I was spasming, shaking, unable to stay still as it felt like I had to crawl out of my own skin, sweating, clammy, pale, my heart rate and blood pressure went through the roof, I vomited until I dry heaved, it felt like my brain was on fire, I saw things, I heard things, I panicked and I drooled and urinated on myself. I remember it like it was yesterday. The only thing I never experienced in the full range of withdrawal symptoms is seizures. If I did, I have forgotten them in my blackout.
Delerium tremens. The pink spiders. Barrel fever. Bottleache. The gallon distempter. The fiddlers.
Oh, how did the fiddlers play.
The bloodwork revealed what I so poorly tried to hide; my BAH was a startling 0.48 and the doctors told me I was lucky to be alive, let alone awake and not in a coma, and they would be damned impressed if I escaped this without some kind of permanent brain damage. Anything past a 4 is almost a for sure death or coma sentence. 5 itself is surest death. I immediately was shot full of a mixture of a large dose of Ativan, Narcan (a drug that negates the effects of narcotics in the system), and Antabuse (a drug that produces sensitivity to alcohol and negates some of the effects of it in the system). It was a series of rapid shots in my hip and within 30 seconds of injection, my whole body immediately went from insane and foaming and contorted to calm and relaxed. I was hooked up to a banana bag and wheeled to the ICU, where I would spend the next 5 days strapped to a bed in the detox ward of the hospital.
What followed was mostly boredom and mostly me sleeping, as Ativan in that amount will knock you out. I was given drugs and constant IV drips and vitamins, especially potassium (Have you ever drank liquid potassium? It tastes like you're doing a shot of acid. That's how desperate my body was for nutrients is I had to take it like that since I was having immense difficulty swallowing pills, which has never happened before in my life.) once every few hours for a couple days and then a few times a day then only 1-2 times a day near the end. I was going to recover and live, but it would require that immense medical detox. Time passed in bizarre ways as I'd nod off without knowing and wake up several hours later staring at my TV or hallucinating I had fallen out of my bed. I couldn't pee without a nurse helping me use a commode next to my bed. I was fed well and encouraged to eat what I could to regain my strength. The nurses there had the patience of saints and not a day goes by I don't thank them for tolerating me and my drug-addled questions about their work.
I was released only when I was able to walk, no matter how shaky I was, and was given a cane I still have to this day that I had to use for over a month. At first, I needed it to even use the bathroom and get in and out of the shower, making me feel truly useless and weak. I had been thoroughly defeated. I couldn't sleep in my own room, as being at the "scene of the crime" triggered something and I couldn't either nod off or I had horrible nightmares. I slept on the couch. Two days after discharge, I went through benzo withdrawal, as the hospital did not taper me off the immense amount of Ativan they had me on; I blame the only doctor I did not like while I was there, the one in charge of the detox unit, as he was an immense, judgmental ass who shouted at everyone and was very "I hope this taught you a lesson" about it all, instead of showing me compassion like everyone else there, including the few chaplains they sent up to talk to me, showed me in spades.
I moved back in with my moms a few weeks after all this, as I found being at their house soothing. My transmom understands what I went through; she herself had quite a few nasty withdrawals battling her own alcoholism and would teach me about it and sobriety and understood my needs. My grandmother, who is an alcoholic herself though not at my scale of the problem, judged me as she refuses to acknowledge her issues. Same with my birth mom; she is a severe addict of everything under the sun and abuses her prescription meds on a daily basis even as I write this, she is passed out on her bed in a drug haze, but feels it's her "right" to give me never ending shit for what I did. However, being near my transmom has brought me tranquility in spades (as well as better taste in television) so I feel more wanted here.
I should note alcoholism, as well as depression, run in my family. Almost all of us have a hard combination of both; I think only my brother, my sole sibling, was spared. It's not til my transmom got sober though and came out of the closet and into therapy did any of us admit for the past few generations at least that any of us had problems and that they needed help.
I managed a decent run of sobriety and celebrated my 29th birthday sober. I felt great and accomplished much during this time.
However, alcoholism is an addiction. It is a disease. I snapped one day during another argument and found myself walking to the store in secret to buy booze. I drank it and wound up at my old hospital blowing a 3.7 this time and was given only enough Ativan for a few days to shave off the worse and then was transferred to a local drug/alcohol detox center. A drunk tank. This is where the police take people wandering the streets while on meth to come down before taking them to jail or re-releasing them back to the streets. I voluntarily checked in with paperwork from the hospital recommending this, so I was guaranteed a bed and approved. I stayed 4-ish days. The average time is 72 hours, but due to the fact I arrived late, they couldn't count the few hours of that day as one, so I was there almost 4 total before I was cleared to go home.
Detox has to be the most boring place on the planet. On top of having only other people coming down off stuff as company (staff would be happy to talk to you as they're all recovered addicts who now work with legit counseling degrees to help but only if they weren't busy, which depending on how many people checked in, could be all damn day) you had rules about what you could watch and when (only movies, only educational ones between breakfast and lunch, and whatever between lunch and dinner and then between dinner and 10-11pm, and all this only if you cleaned the kitchen/lounge after every meal which I wound up doing the bulk of since people want movies but not clean up after themselves, addicts are slobs) and there was one meager bookshelf and one meager shelf of board games and one crappy patio with a ping pong table. Everything you rely on to keep you busy is donated. They have to be then cleared by staff; they wouldn't allow media that glorified addictions (and to them, they counted fucking Sandra Bullock's 28 Days as an educational film) but seeing as how 90% of their films are action/violence or depressing melodramas, death and mental illness are okay to glorify. I didn't like it there. I have some funny stories of interacting with people, but that's for another post, another time.
The counselors, upon hearing my story and who I am and what I do and why I was there, agreed it was no place for me, and that the local inpatient rehabs, or even ones further out around NorCal, were no place for a woman who is also gay and a Shintoist (a lot of them are extremely Christian or Mormon and require bible study and long term commitment as part of the program, required, as well as a communication blackout of up to 60 days upon arrival, including no visitors) and I have since been back to talk to the one counselor who took pity on me the most, a very tall and gentle woman who I don't think has even said "darn" or "heck" in her life, to get better resources for me. The detox is also an ex-rehab facility (My transmom got sober there when it was also a long term rehab. It's since moved/local government funding cut and from what I hear, is of poor quality now.) and addiction education center, so they have various kinds of support group meetings down the hall I attend now as part of my recovery and sometimes I see my old detox counselors and say hi; I have since learned they nicknamed me "Shorty" and refer to me as one of the most well-behaved people to grace their halls in a long time.
Part of what my counselor recommended is I go to AA - Alcoholics Anonymous. I had only been to the meeting in the detox lounge from AA's H + I group, which is their Hospitals/Institutions branch that has volunteer members go to jails, rehabs, detoxes, hospitals, etc to bring meetings in to people who can't come out to one and provide them free copies of the literature donated by AA as a whole. This is where I got my stack of books from, and I thank anyone who volunteers for this specific duty for their kindness in gifting it to me; perhaps someday I can join them and return the favor. What I knew of AA was very little and didn't exactly paint it in a spectacular light, but seeing as my test results from binging more and more were starting to show signs of liver damage at such a young age, I was desperate, since clearly I was having trouble staying sober, even knowing how horrible it makes me feel to drink and go through withdrawal and how it could kill me at any time.
Addiction is monstrous and baffling, making me want to drink like this despite knowing the heavy risks and the fact I could lose it all anytime; friends, family, my girlfriend, my dojo, anything and everything could go down the drain at any second, and then I could up and die from it, too, but still I craved more. Did you know in some people it takes less booze each time you binge to get this sick and hurt yourself? I didn't, and it turns out I'm one of those. My own body is clearly rejecting it, and yet, my brain will twist itself up in a knot and tell me it wants more, and I have to talk my own brain and body out of it.
It took a while before I swallowed my pride and joined more than one AA meeting. I found myself in a few. Then a few more. Then a few more still. Something about listening to these people and their experiences, even if they went on much longer and much worse than me and lost more, all the signs are there saying that this disease affects everyone and anyone with it the same way and progresses the same way. Their stories are my future if I do not stop now. Despite them all in one group at my old detox stomping grounds seeming like they're all so closely knit, they welcomed me instantly, and although I've only seen these few groups a handful of times each, they love me and have welcomed me as one of their own already and have given me so much already in terms of support and resources. They are some of the only people I have ever known to accept me for being Shinto and any mention of it or me being gay is met with acceptance only. I even tried its sister program, Narcotics Anonymous, and was met with the same love and acceptance. I consider myself a member of both now, as I need all the help I can get. Many of them mention they're glad I got in when I did instead of letting it linger for decades and that I'm still considered what AA/NA calls "young" and that frightens me that at almost 30, I'm "young" to them. But that tells me why they're proud I got in when I did and hell, maybe perhaps I can save some young'ns myself.
I don't know if I got lucky with this group or if I go to another I'll be met with the same kindness; from what I've read, chances are I will.
On top of this, every day when I wake up, I read daily thought/inspiration/reflection books and journal by hand about how it makes me feel and how it's relevant to today and possibly at the end of the day, see if it means something different to me now. I often discuss it with my girlfriend, who is not an alcoholic, but is one of the few nonalcoholcis to not judge me and understand an addiction is like an allergy and disease and not a complete failure of me as a moral being like so many, even within my own family, assume. I have been given the names and numbers of support groups and therapists that specialize in women's needs and LGBT needs and so much more. I also find smoking weed helps; it's been proven it can help control the need to drink alcohol and with it coming up for full legalization again for California on the ballot in November, I hope I can use this to help convince people to vote for it. It's saving my life. As is candy and sugar; it acts similarly in controlling cravings. At least weed and munchies go hand in hand.
I have a sponsor (a senior AA who mentors you into the program) now who already likes me even after only one meeting and wants to be there for me. She saw me at a meeting, looked at me the whole time concerned (I could tell she was even out of the corner of my eye as I looked at others as they spoke), and offered herself to be my sponsor immediately after the meeting was over. It took me a while to contact her and arrange a meeting with her, which was last Saturday. I will be working on doing Step One soon, which will be an essay about it and how it makes me feel, written by hand, and her and I will work this together, slow and thorough, so that I may be able to save others some day and work with them. I am truly blessed to have such support.
I would recommend these groups/programs, even if you struggle with "the God thing" as there are secular meetings and most meetings I find will take you as is; my transmom is atheist but went to a meeting with me out of support and found her definition of a higher power, which to her is an inherent goodness of creation and humanity and a bit of karma, to be fully accepted. If it's not for you, it isn't, but there is an immense catharsis for me in listening to others and speaking up and having a full acceptance right offthe bat of your problems.
Today's thought from the AA book Daily Reflections states that one must share their experience and sacrifice some things to save others and create unity. I had been planning on sharing my story on this one year anniversary as is, but it's a sign that yes, it is the right time and right thing to do.
I grew up swearing I'd never be a drunk. Or drink beer. Or be an alcoholic like my family. I grew up thinking I'd be a lot of things I'm not and thinking I'd not be a lot of things I am. It's sadly a common trait amongst many other alcoholics I've met now is growing up around it, swearing to never become that, and then falling for it harder than we could have ever guessed. That and my own stubbornness and self-reliance and self-will are what got me here to begin with, what got me in a relapse cycle, and what kept me from seeking help and recovery so long, even knowing if I do it even one more time, I will at least lose my girlfriend, and that would completely devastate me. She has warned me. But even then, the physical compulsion remains now and again, in a sick and twisted reminder I am stuck for life with this. I suck at asking for help, I was very much into the "God(s) help those that help themselves" and never wont to ask for anything, but now?
Now I have to. Or I will lose it all. I will die if I don't stop.
My sincerest hope now is that by reading this, if you are having addiction issues, you know you are not alone and that there is help. Sobriety can work if you make it work. If you didn't understand how someone like me could fall victim to a disease like this, I hope you now know it doesn't discriminate. If you know others going through this, perhaps you can understand it a bit more.
I'm here for you now as others are now for me. The immense outpouring of support recently from others as I come out and admit all this and that I am getting help has been tremendous. I know I have to put me first now, selfishly, for a while and get sober and stay sober for me, otherwise I cannot be around to be reliable for anyone else as I wish to be; getting sober for others' didn't work, so now I have to get over myself and work it for me. If you need help or love, you can come talk to me and get the same warmth I have been given so freely. Society at large, be it the main community or the churches and temples or the doctors and psychs, are so bad at understanding addiction and recovery and still mostly see it as a moral failure, making it hard for us to find acceptance and help, perpetuating the cycle until more of us are cast out and wind up dead. Perhaps I was given this disease so I can help others come to terms with it and find the understanding the rest of society wants to deny us.
I have a 24-hour sobriety coin. I have been dry longer than that, but since I came to AA later than I should have out of being stubborn, I've been waiting for a specific, special day to go ahead and name my full sobriety date, as it's one thing to be dry, but another to be sober, and only by reflecting on the past year and coming to terms with it and sharing with others what I did and why, and how I came to want to be clean and start that process, can I really and truly call myself sober. I can never drink again; it's written in my genetics. Once awoke, it can never return to slumber. But it is not the death sentence it sounds like it is. I'm coming to terms with this.
It's July 1st tomorrow. The one year anniversary of me almost dying and beginning my slow rebirth process. It's been slow, and I hope if this happens to you, you come to me or through the door of someone who can help a lot sooner than I did. I'll allow myself to pick up a month coin around August 1st.
My name is Amanda, and I'm an alcoholic.
July 1st, 2015 - July 1st, 2016