The following is the fifth excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, The 10 Minute Time Machine – a story of wreckage, renewal, and redemption. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.
If anything can be positively said of walking into a doctor’s office shaking like a leaf, it’s the possibility the nurses and admin staff might assume (or at least this is what I told myself) it’s symptomatic of any number of things. This, in contrast to arriving at a liquor store with wild tremors; if the clerk has been around any length of time, I’m certain they’re accustomed to exactly the reason.
The clinic was on the second floor of a shopping centre, and I remember gingerly making my way up the two flights of stairs and coming to the doors. I surveyed the names on the placard for any familiarity – while there may be plenty of physicians and clinics out there, I couldn’t be too careful in the event this might be someone my mother knew. On the other hand, I was long past the point of caring – my level of desperation high enough that I accepted whatever it meant for the secret to leave my lips, and all that could entail. The names bore no recognition however, and I went inside.
I can’t recall if I was asked to fill out a patient intake form, or if they just saw the condition I was in and decided not to bother. I do remember they requested the “reason for my visit”, and I quietly asked if I could share that with the doctor privately. A few minutes later I was escorted to one of the examination rooms to wait for the M.D., while my mind raced with what on earth I would say to this stranger. It was this wild feeling of knowing a dam was about to burst forth with waters contained for the better part of two decades.
After what felt like an eternity, I remember this complete stranger walking into the room, and me about to unleash the single most personal and private detail of my entire life upon her. A detail I thought I would take to my grave, or at least to some distant point in the future… spoken of only long after it had been resolved, after I had figured out how to “fix” it – which now appeared unlikely of ever happening.
With everything that had led to this, it felt like it should have been a more profound moment; swelling music, thunderclaps, or some such effect. All we had for a soundtrack was a rhythmic, thumping bass from a fitness class in the adjacent women’s gym for this Moment of Moments: Where Jared Comes Clean.
She greeted me with a perfunctory “Hello, I’m Dr. So-and-So, what can I help you with today?”, and fifteen years of heartache, deception, despair and loneliness sat at the edge of my throat, begging to be set free. My mind was too scrambled in its withdrawal state to have planned any (unnecessary, certainly) grand soliloquies anyway, but in the personal weight of that moment, all I could muster was the equally perfunctory and underwhelming – but still so loaded and profound:
“I’m an alcoholic.”
I went on to describe (as best as I could articulate) how I had been dealing with this for the better part of a decade, in secret. The last couple years had me falling into this insane routine of overdose and withdrawal, withdrawal management, return to (my) norm, then falling into another cycle. I said I recognized the thing I craved was simultaneously the thing landing me in these situations, and thereby becoming a necessity – and I could recognize the insanity of it – but nonetheless I was caught in the mire. I didn’t know how to escape without using more, and thus usually perpetuating the cycle.
She regarded me for a long time, with what I took to be wild skepticism – not perhaps about what I was describing, or being in the midst of a withdrawal – but maybe about my motive for setting foot in her office, of all places, about this. I remember one of her first questions was “So what is it you’re looking for me to do to help you?” – which probably sounds worse than she intended or how she even said it, but were nevertheless the words used. I replied that after my first withdrawal several months before, where I hadn’t a clue what was happening (at first), I read up on alcohol detox and learned the severity of it. With that, and each subsequent episode, I tried to manage on my own. At some point I always came out of it, but I was exhausted with the uncertainty of how that might play out. I said I knew – and had experienced – it could be a couple days from now that I’d be ok again, or it could be another week or two.
Beyond the physiology, I tried to profess how tired I was of the whole thing – that drinking had long before stopped being about anything resembling enjoyment, or camaraderie, or even creativity. It had simply become this obsession that I – despite my grandest designs – seemed incapable of avoiding our outsmarting, any more than I could circumvent my need to eat or breathe. I said I was a few days away from my thirtieth birthday, which was all at once a milestone – but carried no weight as far as extrinsic, intrinsic, or any form of motivation to stop. If relationships, career, life – if children – hadn’t been enough, a dubiously significant date on the calendar wasn’t likely to do the job either.
She replied with myriad questions; why had I come to this clinic, why wasn’t I talking to my family doctor, why wasn’t I trying a detox, why didn’t I want my family to know, and so forth. I had answers for all the above, and whatever she judged to be the quality of those replies, they were answers nonetheless. Throughout the cross-examination she performed a cursory physical one: took my blood pressure (I remember her commenting that it was redlining pretty good for someone my age/height/weight), and whatever else it is doctors do when they’re trying to get a physical reading on the bullshit meter.
At some point she left the room – to do what, I have no idea. Read up on the latest alcoholism treatments, confer with a colleague, look me up on Facebook, take a breath; I don’t know. I sat there, feeling for the first time like my life was in the hands of another; that if for whatever reason she didn’t agree to help, I wasn’t sure how I was going to proceed.
In actuality, that much I did know: a worst-case “no” scenario just meant a stop at the liquor store adjacent the shopping centre. I’d continue on with what I’d become accustomed – if not proficient – with. But on an existential level, in the throes of vulnerability, there was that piece of soul-longing. The hope someone might greet me at my worst level and tell me it was ok, that I was going to be ok, that they’d have my back. I realize now a walk-in clinic is a terrible place to seek that – to say nothing of the unfairness of that demand on anyone, any time – but it was where I made my start. In waiting, I was half-paralyzed with fear of what might happen being exposed like that and turned away.
And, because I am who I am, I was also curious what Valium would feel like.
After minutes had passed like hours, she returned to the room and finally said – I could tell with serious reservation – “I will help you. But I have some conditions.”
I don’t remember all of them, but they were along the lines of physically checking in over the coming days, having blood work done, and submitting to some form of counselling – whether that was via my supposedly anonymous workplace “employee family assistance program” or another avenue. She agreed to the Valium, too, which made my addict dance with joy, but also allowed the better angels of my nature to breathe a sigh of relief: tonight could be the first night since time out of mind where we wouldn’t have to stop to pick up our amber poison, and fight the futile fight. She prescribed this conditionally as well: she’d only give me enough for the next sixteen hours or so, and I’d have to be there in person, sober (at least of alcohol), to get more the following day if needed.
I agreed to that and everything else she put on the table. While I never got the sense she was even somewhat enthused about helping, she at least agreed, and for the first time in longer than I could remember, I had hope. The feeling was so foreign I almost didn’t recognize it at first, and would have likely blamed the Valium if it weren’t still an unfilled script.
Despite any misgivings on her part or mine, I do remember her final condition: she said that while she could help on the physical side, there was only going to be so much that could be done from that angle. She stated, unequivocally, that she had “never seen anyone recover successfully without the help of a 12-step program.”
All I knew about recovery programs was mostly what I had seen on TV. I knew my maternal grandfather had gone to meetings, and I “knew” those had something to do with God. Being a borderline atheist, I had always precluded any 12-step option from my thinking on the basis that I assumed a Higher Power = God = Christianity, and my relationship with Jesus had always kind of been like my relationship with Indian food: I really wished I could like it – looks great, smells great – but it never sat quite right with my palate any time I tried again.
I remained desperate enough to agree to just about anything, however, and I remember feeling impressed a medical doctor would vouch for that route – especially later on when I realized all it entailed – and that she really had no vested interest in promoting it. Yes, in Canada, our health care is paid for with tax dollars, and doctors visits rarely (if ever) come out of one’s pocket. From a fiscal standpoint she probably had more interest in telling me to come back, week after week, and having more billable appointments to send into our health services. Instead she told me that in order to have any decent shot at this thing, at a sober life, I was going to need – well, a power greater than myself. Cynical and prejudiced though I was, that carried some weight.
Thanks for dropping by, Dear Reader! Please feel free to follow along as I continue to post excerpts from this, and my novel Of Dreams & Angels. And posts on other random thoughts/experiences that come along. Glad to have you here!