It was an innocent encounter. Okay, it was more complicated-involving four police officers, an entire ER staff, a couple of attorneys and a judge. Summarily, to avoid the all American Pastime (28 days in Rehab), I signed on to an outpatient 90 day drug and alcohol intensive care program. That was no picnic. It is worse than standing in front of a bunch of strangers at AA and going, “Hello. My name is Rosie and I am an alcoholic.” That was the toughest 90 days I had ever been through. Twice a week for three freaking hours, I had to sit in a room and look into the faces of people just like me – except they were not me. I had to look at my failures dead in the eye and face them. If I had a gun, I would have gladly put a bullet in my head. Those 90 days were days I would not wish on an enemy. Basically you have alcoholics and drug addicts sit around a circle and beat relentlessly on the same issue. It was brutal. I wanted to jump off the face of the earth rather than hear the following word again: Serenity. Using. Addict. Recovery. Journey. Relapse. Enabler. Co-dependency. Support.
On my first day, I told the counselors that I would absolutely not hold hands and sing Kumbaya. I proceeded to hang a home made chart with all 90 days marked on a calendar. I put an x on day one and stuck it on the wall. It drew a few chuckles. One of the counselors rolled her eyes like, gee we have a comedian here.
I’ve suffered horrible back pain for years. At first I thought it was a pinched nerve or a bulging disc. Then a chiropractor told me my coccyx was all twisted up and pushing on some nerves. The pain is horrible. It starts from my lower back and buttock area and spreads to the right side of my neck and shoulders and down my right leg. A lot of chiropractors and medical doctors gave varying diagnosis. Finally a neurologist told me I had extreme muscle spasms.
“It-is muscle pain,” said Dr. Wong in his thick philippino accent.
“Hunh?” I asked.
“Some muscle tenshun in the hedd, nekk and shoulder and it starts wit the concentrashun on yo back,” he said
“So what you are saying is I am wound too tight.”
“Yes. Yew gotta change how yew tink and re-act to tins aroun yew. Das all. Jus stress and tenshun.”
Dr. Wong then proceeded to show me stretches and range of motion exercises to help with the pain. He started with the toilet stretch.
“Wen yew doo namber wan and too in da toilet, yew stretch neck lika dis,” he said sitting on a chair and flopping his head front and back like a puppet. Then he showed me proper back positioning, standing up straight like a tin soldier. He also did a ballerina-like performance, placing his two hands over his head and swaying around like a dancer in the Nutcracker. He finished with his version of a demi-plie and ended on his tiptoes and heel. Priceless. I would have laughed but I remember he said he was not prescribing anything for the pain.
“De pain willy nut kill yew but the medication might,” he said. Dear Dr. Wong. He could have told me this over the phone, saved me gas money and a $35 co-pay.
I left his office feeling a bit relieved that after all those xrays, MRIs and chiropractor visits, the problem was that I think too much, and get all tense and stressed out. I have always known this but I never for once put a connection between my anxiety and persnickety ways and my back pain. During the day, my mind runs every where and anywhere. I need check lists and project sheets to put an order into my chaotic mind. I think at a few hundred miles an hour. Thoughts and ideas fly any which way. I can handle this during the day. But at night when it is time to wind down and sleep, my mind won’t shut off. The thoughts and drama keep replaying over and over, no matter how I try to make it stop. On a few bad nights, when the stress and anxiety don’t go away, I take two ativan to help me relax. Okay four. And I wash it down with a glass of wine. Okay two glasses. Maybe three but who’s counting…
Well, that usually does the trick. The stress eases, my muscles relax, my mind becomes this organized little machine that actually successfully picks out what to wear the next day, packs my lunch bag, cleans the kitchen, takes the dog out, writes a that 2000-word story that had been playing around my mind for days before the booze and wine finally send me to sleep- all under 45 minutes. So I am more functional when I am buzzed. I know some of you are too, don’t you tsk tsk me and shake your head at the screen.
So this brings me back to the beginning of my story in July 2007 in that small room with that group of people in the alcohol treatment program. The funny thing is I did learn some useful things at the treatment program mainly; the names of the doctors in town who will prescribe just about anything (my most useful info yet), drug dealers who were totally under the law enforcement radar, how to cover up an overdose/accidental death, the best concoctions to use to beat a piss test, and the perfect time to do 120 miles an hour on highway 94.
Yet, the best thing about my experience is that I found out I did not like other people (like judges and counselors) making decisions for me. The degradation of having to sit with society’s cast offs and be labeled one of them jarred me. If I was going to act immature and ruin my life, I had to learn to do it more privately. Meanwhile, I had to take my life back. Slowly. One day at a time. I had to climb out of the hole I dug for myself.
Last week, I was talking to my nurse on the phone. We generally discussed my pain management program for my back and also my mental health. She gave me a brief quiz and then gave me a score.
“On a depression measurement scale scale of 0 to 70, you scored 20. The average American is 50. Your score is really low,” she said.
“Twenty is okay,” I replied, “It means that I have finally managed to scrape myself off 0.”
And you know what? I absolutely believe it. Pass the Shiraz.