So, on Thursday, February 16, 2017, I left Sanford and Dayna drove me to Prairie St. John’s psychiatric and behavioral health hospital where I signed in for intensive in-patient care. It was also my 47th birthday. I was scared, and after Dayna drove off, it was the first time I felt lonely in a long time. I was, however, 16 days sober.
That evening I was given a copy of the Alcohol Anonymous Big Book, in which I signed my name, and added “sober plus 16 days.”
I now have two birthdays. My Belly-Button Birthday, and my Sobriety Birthday on the first of February. The next night I attended my first AA meeting at St. Genevieve’s Place, part of Prairie St. John’s treatment center, and picked up my 24-hour sobriety chip. In that moment, that thin, light, aluminum silver colored coin meant everything to me.
Rehab is not easy
I heard many times that it is not meant to be. The start of mine was a little rough as I still thought I could fix myself and the problem would be fixed. I didn’t really listen as I still thought I knew all the answers (another symptom of this disease). I wanted to get better, but I still thought I knew what to do. About a week into my treatment, my fantastic counselor, a woman I equally owe the last three years to by the name of JoAnn Spiering, handed me my very incorrect rear-end on a plate. This day also was the day Dayna came in to meet my group to give her side to living with me. It was one day I will never forget. Between JoAnn and Dayna working their magic, it was the day I realized that I was what was wrong and that I needed help (and a great deal of help) to learn how to manage this disease.
It was at lunch time, after a hard conversation with Dayna in her car parked outside St. Genevieve’s Place, that I truly regrouped and began to take what was the first step to learning to living with this disease – I began to listen to people and take in and think about what I was hearing. What I was hearing was not – good. It was not pleasant. It was not an uplifting scene from a Hallmark-type movie with tear-jerking background music. This was the day, later in the afternoon, that I took stock and admitted two facts for the first time: Firstly, that the empty bottles Dayna regularly found around the basement were not there because I put them down to pick something else up and just forgot to also bring them up to recycle. I “carefully” hid them there to drink their contents and actually forgot about them. Secondly, the charges for $29.99 and all the cash withdrawals of $40.00 from out of our accounts were for Jim Beam. To admit this about myself, to say I did this, and it was bad, to actually feel something, to feel shame for this, to not have to lie about this anymore. This was a fantastic feeling. That was my first step towards recovery. It turned out to be one hell of a fantastic day!
Each day after that I embraced with a mixture of eagerness with an underlying feeling of fear. Fear about what else I would learn/remember/admit about myself and an eagerness to take all this in, address it all, talk about it, and listen to responses. In JoAnn’s group, each of us were allotted a different colored sand. Each morning when we shared, we poured our sand into a large glass container as we reintroduced ourselves and added what we are (as in, “My name is Mazz, and I am an alcoholic”) and then talked about how we were feeling. We listened, and suggested, and listened. We did group activities, we read to each other, we watched documentaries about addiction and freely discussed them. We helped each other understand our own personal symptoms to our disease without shame, without judgement, and without lies.
Three times a week, in the evenings, Dayna came to visiting hours. We talked about my progress, our fears of our future (some of which were about medical bills). There is no doubt in my mind this was a hard time for Dayna, who managed her work schedule while having to drive all over town and spend time on the phone to manage all the medical billing.
It was about this time that I realized I was not alone in this at all. My wife was going through some hard times connected to this disease, a disease that affects whole families.
As the days went on, I slowly began to re-learn who I used to be, and even at this point, I started liking this “new” me. I think this self-progress was marked by a Thursday morning on the 16th of March. JoAnn asked to see me during the first break in her office. I was asked if I wanted to go home that night but come back the next day for an 8:30 a.m. start and every weekday after that for the rest of my treatment. Well, the weekend before I picked up my one-month sobriety chip, and that red colored, thin, light, aluminum coin was sitting with great pride inside my front left side jean pocket at that moment. Now this was almost an uplifting scene from a Hallmark-type movie – minus the music. Remember I mentioned that brain function returned? I had the presence of mind to say, “Maybe we should check to see what Dayna thinks?” JoAnn agreed completely (I still think this was a crafty wee test) and we phoned Dayna. Dayna, bless her, said that this was a very good idea, she was happy about this and would look forward to picking me up at 5 p.m. Cue tear-jerking background music!
I would like to write about that evening, but I do need to preface. What happened may not work for anyone else who was just given the opportunity and trust to start day-release treatment. However, one of the things which has to happen when working within the treatment program to successfully be a sober alcoholic is no more lies. So here it is:
Lilly was happy to see me as well. Dayna and I had a fantastic meal. It was nice to eat something that you needed to chew, and I got to use a knife with dinner (if you have ever dined with a European you know a knife and fork are required at all time) as opposed to a plastic fork and a plastic spoon.
After dinner Dayna was a wee bit quiet, so I asked what was wrong. I was not exactly expecting the answer, but it was honest. “I cannot believe that I would like a glass of wine, and I can’t have one.” So, I mentioned that D sure could drink – she wasn’t the alcoholic, I am, and made a decision. We walked down the street, crossed University Drive and went to Luna for a glass of wine (for Dayna), a lemonade for me, and the dessert menu, armed with the rationale that if this goes belly-up, I could still get my bed back at Prairie. Everything was fine.
I think we needed to do that. To this day I can still happily go out to eat with Dayna, and she can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner in the company of her sober, fully present husband. As I said, this may not work for everyone, but that is the nature of the disease. The treatment is living, living life on your own terms, free of fear or guilt. I, personally, just refuse to be afraid of not trusting myself to enjoy a nice night out with my wife.
Next: Progress 6b (video)
Dr Marry in week three of his time in rehab. He is beginning to physically look like the man I fell in love with again, but I think you can see the terror in his eyes at what comes next.
Your words will help so many–absolutely sure of that! Question, if you aren’t in a rehab facility and just find an AA group to attend on your own, does the person sometimes have to “shop around,” so-to-speak when the first meeting they go to doesn’t seem like a good fit. Someone one I know said that people were too much in her face, saying that immediate rehab was the only answer. Or, perhaps this person was not facing the truth? At any rate, do people sometimes try different AA group meetings before finding the right group?
Hi there. Thank you for your kind words. YES! You can sure shop around to find an AA meeting that you feel happy in. Not everyone needs rehab the way I did. There are after work programs as well as day release. Also, just going to AA and being able to not drink on your own is fantastic if it works. Some meetings can sure be “in your face”, or too religious, or not religious enough. Shopping around is the key. Hope this helps.
Yes, it does help. I will pass your reply on and hope person will try another group. Tusen takk!
I always wondered how difficult it must be for you to go in a pub. Makes perfect sense the way you say it. Loving the positive turn. So very proud of you and a massive lot of respect for Danya
Dayna Del Val
I really appreciate your comment, Karl. Glad Mazz’s post explains it because I do think it’s a totally fair thing for people to wonder about.
Why thank you, Dr. Morris, and thank you for the kind words. Dayna has been fantastic throughout all of this! Hope to catch up very soon. Take care, my friend