This post is dedicated to my friends MW and KK, the first who helped get me to sobriety and the second, who along with many others, helps keep me there.
“It’s medication time! It’s medication time!”
Every day, twice a day, as dependable as the sun rising and setting, the roly-poly male nurse cheerfully bellowed those words, and the apocalyptic zombie waltz commenced from rooms around the ward to the Plexiglas front of the tightly controlled, sweet candy store known as the pharm lab.
Standing in line, in various stages of dress and undress, whether in street clothes or hospital gown, old, young, from the city or the ‘burbs, straight, gay, unsure, we were united purely by our desire to get the magically delicious blend contained in our personally prescribed Dixie cup of relief from the demons within.
In my case, the diagnosis (manic depression) and therefore medications (nardil, lithium), was proven within 18 months to be incorrect. Nonetheless, the diagnosis provided something life saving: you cannot drink alcohol on these meds. I vowed I would not drink after I was released if it meant I would feel better, and I have been sober for 26 years. The initial blood work found my life-long struggle with occasional black clouds that hurricane winds could not remove was due to low thyroid function, and thus began a contest trying to get that dang little gland to balance on a beam like an Olympic gymnast who suddenly sprouted size 14 feet.
I arrived at the psych ward via ambulance early in the morning of Sunday, July 4, 1988. I had gone out Saturday night to a women’s bar in NJ, once again searching for friendly faces and only finding rejection. Alcohol never upped my game. I never had game. (Well, on the softball field, I had great game, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog. Or two.) Within the previous year I had come out of the closet, divorced my husband, watched my mother battle breast cancer, moved from PA to NJ, changed jobs, started intense therapy, had my first relationship with a woman (who turned out to be a drug addict) – I just don’t know why when I left that bar in NJ, all I wanted to do was drive my car off whichever dead Philadelphian bridge I was on.
When I got home, for the first time, the unconditional love of my Sheltie JJ just wasn’t enough. I called information and asked for the closest hospital. I must have reached the best operator ever. She calmly asked me a series of questions and kept me on the phone until the EMTs arrived. I knew my parents would have to drive all the way from western PA to come watch him and then put him in a kennel on Monday, which of course they did, because they are the best parents ever.
Arriving at the hospital, I had the choice whether to check myself in, and I said YES. Just the fact I had thought about driving off that bridge scared me enough to do so. I was in for 10 days. I recall hating about 7 days of it. I hated the art therapy. I hated the music therapy. I particularly hated group therapy. The Rorschach test was stupid. I scoffed that they took my shoelaces but not my toothbrush. Did they not realize I could stab myself in the throat with my toothbrush? The food was crap. Most of the other people scared the hell out of me. The room where people were in strait jackets and there were padded cells – Oh. My. God.
Slowly, my M&M (messy & melancholy) hard candy-ass shell melted and my gooey, feeling self started to ooze out of the twisted tunnels it had been poured into for its own safety. I actually got into art therapy. I began to talk in group. I realized just how much I had in my life that was good. I acknowledged I had a medical condition. Let me write that again. I acknowledged I had a medical condition. Not a character weakness. This was not about me being weak. This was about me being strong enough to ask for help.
The illusion of control is an odd thing. It is intoxicating. It is addictive. It is dangerous. Giving up this illusion is so liberating.
What is controlling you? An addiction of some sort – a substance, a person, a religion, a belief? Is it a fear? A fear of looking foolish? Of failing?
Today, in the US, it is Independence Day. I invite you to join with me and declare your independence from whatever it is that is holding you back. You can start today. This can be your Independence Day also!
Postscript: A few years ago I was able to visit the ward where I was hospitalized. I stopped first at the hospital gift shop to buy flowers. Who should answer at the front desk of the ward but the “Medication Time” male nurse! He and another nurse both worked there while I was hospitalized. They thanked me profusely for the flowers and said, “We never hear about the ones who make it.” That still gives me chills.