18 Degrees of Insanity…

Years ago, when I read James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces”, I was infuriated. Angry because as soon as I was twenty pages into the book, as an alcoholic and addict in recovery, I knew he had fictionalized his experience. And maybe it doesn’t matter. I’ve spoken to several addicts and alcoholics who feel that even if he helped one person, then his intentions were honorable. And well, it was a great piece of literature. So maybe, in reality, he’s just a great storyteller. But I still felt cheated, because I felt that I had earned my journey. I felt that I had earned my misery, as well as my sobriety. It was mine. The one thing no one could take away from me. And then I realized, it just didn’t matter. We all fictionalize pieces of our lives to help others. Or to even get attention, right?

For years, people have asked me about my story, and I’ve kept it close to my heart, except in the rooms of my cohorts where I find solace and serenity. But now, I think, it’s time. Because maybe, just maybe, I can help one person out of the madness. The madness, which for me ended on December 16th, 1994.

I always considered myself, “The Pretty Drinker”. It was a term I had used to describe my mother in her drinking days, hair combed back, adorned in a cute suit, nice piece of jewelry around her neck, with a beer or martini in hand. And even as a small child, I yearned to be that “pretty drinker”. But there was nothing pretty about December 16th. And to this day, I wonder what it was about that morning, or afternoon as I was accustomed to not getting up until after three at that point, that made it any different. I remember walking into the kitchen and cracking open a Colt 45, having moved onto malt liquor as a starting point every morning, because quite frankly it was cheaper and more potent. In the bathroom, I examined my face. I looked closely at the stubble around my chin, powerful grey clouds foreshadowing a storm under my eyes, and the always constant perspiration. By that point in my addiction, I could no longer smell myself. But I had learned that others could, and quickly. I cracked open a bottle of Vicodin, swallowed two with the malt liquor, and started the shower. Back then and even now, I always start my day with a shower. A small piece of wisdom my mother allowed upon me when she would roust me up in the morning and get me started, long before high school, when her days began late after mine. She had told me it was always important to get up, get dressed and start your day. The motto of a pretty drinker.

I remember standing in the shower, holding myself up against the wall, the Colt 45 accompanying me under the water, as I soaped myself up, cleaned myself up and became beautiful. At least to me…

After my shower, I walked around in a robe, fixing my hair, smoking several cigarettes, smoking a joint, and just lazing in front of the tv. Typically, I had one movie in the VCR that I would just have on in the background, over and over again, and at that point, I believe it was “Out of Africa”. I tended to always lean to the beautiful and the desolate. By this time, it was six or seven and I needed to begin getting ready for the evening. Somehow though, I found myself down at my friend’s apartment, drinking and getting ready for the evening. It was Friday and that typically meant we were on day two or three of the weekend. Looking back, I realize it took me three or four hours of drinking, pills and weed to get to the point that when walked through my friend’s door, they always thought I was stone sober. And then the real party would begin.

And honestly…that’s about the extent of the party that I remember. That first drink, which at that point in my drinking was always a Jack and Coke, well, actually, a double. And then out…like a power outage at midnight, with the freaks still running the streets in my mind. I don’t remember much else. I remember being at a club and standing at a bar. I remember someone buying me drinks all night long. But I don’t remember that someone. I remember going out into the alley behind the club with someone else, a girl maybe, and smoking rock, something I had begun doing towards the end, but had literally been too ashamed to admit to myself or any of my friends. I remember showing up at my friend Jack’s house and he took my keys and told me I could leave. I remember waiting for him to go to sleep, sneaking into his room, stealing back my keys, plus about six beers and several cassette tapes and heading back to my apartment up north. I inherited one quality from my mother…always wanting to be at home after the party. Home was safe. At home, nothing could happen, and I didn’t like being out of my element.

So I headed up north from downtown Indianapolis. And that is where I vanish into the night…into the black, only to remember one memory until the next day. I’m driving home, and I remember sitting back in the driver’s seat, not touching the wheel, looking over at the passenger’s side and talking to someone…who isn’t there. I rarely share this with anyone, because for me, looking back, it was somewhat mystical, or hallucinatory, but I believe something happened in that car that night. I don’t think I was supposed to make it. But I did…

And the rest, I rely on my father to fill in the blanks. He apparently received a middle of the night phone call and came out to rescue me, stepmother in toe. When they arrived, they found me, pacing in the driveway next to the White Castle, mumbling, not making much sense, in a tee shirt and jeans, in 18 degree weather. Just today when I called him he told me that it was bitter cold that year and he couldn’t believe I was walking around in nothing but a tee shirt. I do vaguely remember walking to the grocery store before my father came, and buying cigarettes with every cent I owned because I knew I was going to jail. I had driven my car almost into the kitchen of Perkin’s restaurant and had landed, nose down, in the ditch. The car was littered with alcohol and most probably other substances. When my father arrived, he looked me over once and stated, “Jail or treatment. It’s your decision, but I’m done.” I guess I decided, as any good alcoholic and addict does, that treatment sounded pretty good, because I jumped in his car and my stepmother drove me to the closest treatment center, leaving my father, a prominent plastic surgeon and board member of his hospital, to say he had been driving my car. The consummate enabler.

I don’t remember walking into treatment. I don’t remember the .37 I blew on a blood alcohol level, which should indicate death. I don’t remember the urine drug screen I gave which tested positive for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, benzodiazepines and barbiturates. I was a walking pharmacy of the sick…sick of mind.

I must have slept much of the next day, because when I woke, it was early evening and I was craving a cigarette, at that point, being a three pack a day smoker. I turned over in my bed and looked at an at least 7 foot, black giant next to me, snoring and moaning in his sleep, tossing back and forth and pulling at his sheets. I quickly pulled myself together, ready to sign myself out. I ran into the hall and walked up to the nurses station, only to be met by eyes I had known almost my entire life. She smiled and took my hand from across the counter. “You didn’t know I worked here, did you?” she said. And I stared back at my childhood neighbor and the mother of my childhood friend. Which should have been comforting…

It was so, fucking embarrassing. To say the least. She explained to me that I was on the detox unit and that it was a locked unit, stating that I would be given medication every several hours to help me detox my system. She also explained that I would have my vitals taken to make sure my body was safe. I laughed and she looked across the counter at me. “It’s not funny. You’re in really bad shape.” She handed me a pack of my cigarettes and told me to go to the lounge and have some juice. I walked down the hallway, in a pair of oversized scrub pants, no shirt, a long hospital robe and footies. As I walked past a full, length mirror, I realized one thing. I was glamorous. This was the life I had hoped and dreamed for all of my years.

After all…I was 22 and I was a pretty drinker…


9 thoughts on “18 Degrees of Insanity…


  2. Peter:

    I am beyond moved by your post. It is among the most honest and touching written words I’ve read and I really hope that you continue. I read in your Twitter status that this is part of your book. If it’s to be published, congratulations. If you’re working on it, please don’t stop. I can smell a bestseller and a story that can help hundreds of thousands of people crying out for help.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. Recently, my boyfriend who was from Indy (Noblesvile) actually died as a result of his addiction….his body broke down. He too came from a good family. The shame you expressed was similar to the things he would share with me. So sad that in 2010 there still is so much shame associated with this disease. Keep telling your story and helping other people get the help they need. Amazing you beat this!

  4. Oh wow. I don’t drink or do drugs, but I have a lot of close friends and family that do, and to hear your story is an eye-opener! I’m so glad that you were able to overcome everything! You should seriously consider writing a book about this! Keep being amazing!! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Happy Father’s Day, Love Dad…Get Up, Show Up…and Don’t Whine! « Thoughts From The Couch

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