Me and Detox

On beating my demons

Patrick Schnerch

Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2(9), pp. 20-22

stock photoPrologue

On a Friday night in November 2004, I was so drunk leaving the bar that I didn't know how to get home. I staggered the streets for hours and eventually laid down beside the road and passed out.

The police picked me up and took me home. My wife was deeply hurt, and I was ashamed and belittled by the experience. Soon after I found out that my long-term alcohol use was causing my liver to harden around the outer edges. Alcoholism. I made my mind up to fight back.

Detox 'Diary'

Day 1

My last drink was at 8:00 p.m. last night. I arrived today at 9:00 a.m., a little frightened of what I had gotten myself into. My bags were inspected: I wasn't allowed to have a cell phone or alcohol-tainted products such as aftershave lotion or mouthwash. By the time I settled in I would normally have been on my third or fourth beer. Then, I'm at the bar for opening time and am kicked out by 9:00 p.m., having downed about 14 or 15 beers altogether.

The staff is very pleasant. I have a private room with a lamp and desk. There are two kitchens, a TV room, a public phone and a smoking area in the courtyard. The courtyard has locked doors, so people in detox can't just leave. You can mingle with other patients or pick a corner and veg out. I needed to gather my thoughts on how this all happened to me, so I found myself a little corner and that is where I sat. I made myself a pot of coffee (decaf—regular is very harsh on the body). I was ready to start my detox.

I began to write in my journal. I became depressed and remorseful, reflecting on what I must have put my family through, especially my wife. I am saddened that my behaviour has been so selfish—that my feelings were all that mattered. When I'm sober, I'm a kind and loving soul who worships the ground my wife walks on. And I've failed her parents by not being a productive and loving husband to their daughter. But when I drink, I only consider my own pleasures. I turned all this hurt inward and cried, realizing for the first time what I have done to others. This is very painful.

The medical staff tested my vital signs several times today to determine the levels of alcohol in my system. They check your blood pressure, pulse, temperature, check for shakes and listen to your heart to determine a score; if your score is 10 or higher, they administer Valium to calm down the withdrawals and prevent a seizure. My levels were a little high, but I didn't need drugs to calm me down.

I had no appetite and didn't eat all day. This is very common. When I'm drinking, food is of no importance.

I phoned my wife after she came home from work. She is my lifeline while I'm in here. We're only allowed 10-minute phone calls. I told her this is a first-class facility, equipped and staffed with everything you could need and that visiting hours were twice a week at 7:00 p.m. for one hour. My wife said she was very pleased we had made this decision together to seek help. I agreed, and we said our good-byes.

I remained isolated from the other residents. I tried to make peace with myself and God, but couldn't stop beating myself up. I wanted to die.

Day 2

After a restless night, I woke at 2:00 a.m., highly agitated. The only time I ever have a good sleep is after a very heavy drunk; otherwise, I am up at all odd hours during the night. I had several cigarettes in hopes they'd calm me down. The on-duty nurse checked my vital signs. They were still up, but didn't need intervention.

Detox was the shock to the system I needed. Away from everyone—and, especially, away from the bottle—I had to face my failures head on. I wrote in my journal for several hours. I hated myself for becoming an alcoholic. I realized my life had no value while I was drinking. I was a lonely 'drunk' sitting at the kitchen table drinking decaffeinated coffee and thinking of all the years I had wasted, rotting at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. How could I ever know my full potential if I was always under the influence? And my relationship with my wife has suffered. I want my wife to be happy again. I want to be the man she married.

At two days without a drink, I didn't physically feel too bad and didn't have any urges to drink. I had anxiety and slight tremors, but this was relatively mild, which amazed me. With the amount of alcohol I had put in my body on a daily basis, I should have been spinning like a top.

It seems that my addiction is more psychological than physical. I've noticed a pattern of becoming highly agitated and unable to cope with stress. Since my prescribed medication doesn't calm me down, I drink for relief. I don't feel better; it just numbs the pain for a while. Feeling nothing is better than hurting. I get that when I drink. Nothing else works. Here at the detox centre, there is no stress to test my will. However, I don't trust myself on the outside.

I had already had four pots of coffee by the time the others got up. I took my medication and again phoned my wife before she went to work. Just hearing her voice gave me strength. Her support is very necessary to me. Without her, I would have been on the streets or dead already.

After the phone call, I went to the courtyard for a cigarette. I finally grew the courage to join the others. Most were on the stabilization program, which runs for 28 days. Many encouraged me to take the program after I complete my detox. It includes mandatory sessions on how to beat your addiction. It also guarantees another 28 days of no access to your favourite drug.

I still wasn't hungry; coffee and booze have been my staple fare for a long time. I had basically been awake a whole day already and was tired, so went back to bed, skipping lunch and dinner.

My wife came to see me in the evening. It made me think of what life must be like in prison. It was difficult for me to convey to her what was happening. We did a little tour of the facility, then sat in the kitchen and held hands. I told her about the rehabilitation program. She wanted to see how I was after detox.

After my wife left, I went back to my room to write in my journal. This solitude and absence of alcohol made me think much more clearly and already I felt better. I was surprised that the physical withdrawal was quite easy for me. This gave me added confidence, which I need. My depression was lifting and I no longer doubted that, with a little common sense and determination, I could beat this thing. I took my evening medication and went to sleep.

Day 3

Again, I woke at 2:00 a.m. The sedative effects of my medication had worn off, so I went to the courtyard for a few cigarettes. I felt very hyper and full of uncontrolled energy. Usually, I'd grab a drink and a cigarette when I felt this way. At least I was in a safe place, where my energy wouldn't get out of control.

If I lose control I can injure myself—or others. When manic, I am also usually psychotic with hyper sexual tendencies that can get a person into a lot of trouble. Sometimes, I cut myself to ground with reality. Being drunk and disorderly is actually a blessing in disguise. When I get ill, I become a danger to the public and my family; when I am drunk the danger no longer exists. Which route would you take? I don't want to hurt anyone. I am dealing with human lives; drinking myself to death is much more humane.

After my grueling night of questions, I was quite distraught. My thoughts ate at me like maggots on a corpse. Saddened and belittled, I sat with my coffee. At best, I was suicidal; if I had a gun, the choice would be easy and instant. Fortunately, the resources weren't available. But the problem is still there smoldering . . .

After a few cigarettes and a couple of coffees, I went to bed for the day, again skipping lunch and dinner. Not even God would look down upon me. I was alone and hurting. My soul died and, crying, I fell asleep.

Several hours later I awoke and phoned my wife. After that I had a sandwich and a glass of juice—the first thing I had eaten in over three days.

During the day I was wakened for an evaluation by the resident doctor, who was concerned about my sleeping habits. After reviewing my medication, she noted that my antidepressant, which I take at night, is notorious for insomnia. She changed the timing so I would take my antidepressant in the morning, which should give me more energy during the day.

After examining my chart the doctor questioned my need for detox. My vitals were low and physically I was not showing any signs of dependency. Even though I drink 14 beers a day, this didn't register on their testing. It puzzled her that I was physically and mentally more capable in life compared to other patients.

Today, two gentlemen from the drug rehab support group Narcotics Anonymous came to tell us how they beat their demons. My feelings came alive when they told their stories. Their lives were empty; now they help others deal with addictions. I plan to attend the men's support group. After, I took my medication and went to bed.

Day 4

I woke up at 1:30 a.m. today. The nurses barely ever test my vital signs now, since my levels are near normal. It takes three to four days for alcohol to leave your system and my body has already flushed most of the poison out. I may be discharged tomorrow.

Physically, this has been a piece of cake. I still have problems with my sleep and eating habits, and I still get agitated and nervous, which is a trigger for me to drink. I hope I can find another method of arresting my agitation. The detox has kept me away from alcohol until I could dry out. I feel very content. What an amazing difference a few days can make.

I phoned my wife, then went out for a cigarette. The other residents were awake by this time. They are good people who have had their fair share of tragedy.

The big question is: can I survive the stresses beyond these walls? I know how ferocious my illness can be and when push comes to shove, I really don't know what I will do. It is so comfortable in here, but I can't stay forever. I am apprehensive, as well as happy, about leaving tomorrow.

I missed lunch and dinner, but later had a sandwich and a juice from the refrigerator. I phoned my wife and told her I was coming home. She can't wait to see me tomorrow, and I am anxious to see her. She is proud of me for doing this. It shows her I still care. Our marriage is very important to me, and I don't know what I'd do without her.

It was a quiet evening. I had a few cigarettes and mingled with the other residents and that's about it. I'll take my medication and go to bed. Tomorrow is my big day.

Day 5

At 2:00 a.m. I was up having my coffee. My vitals were tested one last time and the alcohol has cleared my system. I had a couple of cigarettes and feel a little less agitated. I have more energy and am alert. I haven't felt this way for decades.

The hard part is yet to come. The detox program scared me straight, but I still have a few demons to vanquish. Life is full of challenges and I am willing to take them on. But I am also worried that I may fail. This scares me.

Everyone is awake now and I have phoned my wife. I am just waiting for my release into the 'wild.'

Later on day 5

At 10:30 a.m. I was free to go. There were no bells or whistles, just a few hugs and healthy handshakes. I got into a cab and came home. Upon arriving, I noticed there was no alcohol in the house. I don't remember the last time that was the case.

The energy and renewal I feel is extraordinary. After a few hours, I made pork chops and salad for dinner and waited for my wife to come home. We ate and cuddled on the couch. A new man, I was very happy to be home.

Epilogue

My sobriety barely lasted eight months.

Most of my drinking is a self-medication measure: I've used booze to suppress my pain during depression, calm myself down during mania, and put myself to sleep. I can also induce a dissociative state by drinking.

At 12 I was diagnosed with manic depression/schizophrenia. After a traumatic move from my loving aunt and uncle's place to go live with my dad, I became severely depressed and entered a world of darkness, where my father and stepmother couldn't reach me. My mind would shut off and I'd enter my dark sanctuary. I grew accustomed to shutting out the world.

I don't need protection anymore, but I still yearn for it. I still remain in a dissociative state for several hours every day, and alcohol helps me get there at will. It's not the alcohol I miss, it's the tranquility. It's hard to let go of my security blanket.

In June 2005 I was stricken with another serious depression. I sought medical help, but was sent out to the dogs after a five-minute appointment. Desperate, I once again turned to alcohol. I took the bus to the nearest pub, got plastered and once again was brought home by the police because I had passed out on the roadside.

I'm having great difficulty calming the beast. But I am working with my addictions councillor and plan to go through detox and the 28-day residential rehabilitation program.

 
About the author

Patrick resides in Victoria, BC, and lives with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and alcoholism