Saturday, April 7, 2012

I Know Exactly What You Mean

Procrastination is an interesting thing. Usually, when I have something I need to get done I spend the first two hours at my desk making sure every pen I own actually writes. No matter that I am sitting in front of my computer and I have no intention of writing anything longhand. It's just one of my many ridiculous habits to settle my mind down so I can actually think. Oddly enough, it works most of the time.

For whatever reason, today I didn't do that. I had no idea what I was going to write about and I was really nervous that I wouldn't be able to come up with anything (being that I've barely written in six months). So I decided the first thing I should do is look back over some old posts to ensure that I didn't start retelling a story I'd already told. It's one of the hazards of ADD. I may write something brilliant today, but I won't even remember having written it a week from now. Occasionally people will refer to something I've written on the blog when they see me in person. Virtually every time I will stare blankly at them for about a minute until they give me a confused look and say, “You know. You wrote that in your blog post yesterday.” Ohhhhhh. Did I? Hmmmm. I'm pretty funny. I should read me sometime. So today I did. And it's a good thing.

When I got back to December 2010 I came upon a post about the day I got into detox. In the comments section a friend made reference to his own drug-induced psychosis and finally something clicked. About eight months ago, he – I'll call him Buddy for now – emailed me after reading one of my posts and suggested an idea that I thought was brilliant but never followed up on. Buddy was my sponsee when he first came into the program and he made it 89 days before he relapsed. As is usually the case, it wasn't a particularly pretty relapse and a couple of friends had to go with me to help him one night. Because Buddy is also a writer, he wondered what that story would look like from both sides (his and mine). Like I said, brilliant idea. So today I'm going to write my side. Hopefully, he will be inspired to write it from his. If/when he does, I will post it here.

I don't remember when this took place. I'm pretty sure I either just had my two-year anniversary or it was coming up really soon. I do remember that I was at a friend's apartment playing poker, which means I was probably losing what little money I had to my three friends that made exponentially more than I did.

For that reason, I wasn't upset when we had to take a break so one of them could talk to his sponsee on the phone. Well, at least until I found out the conversation was about my sponsee. Now, having been a brand newcomer to sobriety myself not that long before this AND having dealt with many others, the one thing I knew was whatever drama they were reporting was usually only about a tenth as serious as it seemed to them. So my initial reaction was, “What now”, complete with eye roll and audible sigh. But as soon as my friend started to relay the message to me my response changed.

“No. No. No. This is not how it's going to go. If Buddy is having a problem, tell him to call me. If it's as bad as he says it is, he has no business getting someone with barely a hundred days involved. Tell him to call his sponsor or deal with it himself.” I figured that would be the end of it because Buddy hadn't been all that inclined to call me in the last couple weeks before his relapse. I didn't think for a second he was going to call me now.

But less than five minutes after my friend got off that call, my phone rang. Oh shit. I should mention here that Buddy was only the third sponsee I'd had up to this point and 89 days was by far the longest any of them had made it. So the extent of my sponsorly wisdom and experience was “I don't care if you don't want to go to a meeting, just go anyway and call me later.” If you had asked me theoretically, I'd have told you there was no way I was capable of handling very much more than that.

So what happened when I answered the phone completely freaked me out. Buddy was a disaster. Apparently, he was sitting in the hallway between the bathroom and bedroom in his apartment calling me because that was the only place he could be where “they” couldn't see him.

Who exactly?

His neighbors. They were gathered outside his window taunting him, mocking him, threatening him. He was certain they were going to break down the door and storm the apartment momentarily.

And as soon as he said that, I understood. And I started to shake. Because I'd been there. I knew exactly what was happening. And I knew he was terrified. In fact, just writing this part is making me tear up a little bit.

I tried to reassure him. To let him know that I really didn't think anyone was going to break down his door. But I knew. I knew I wouldn't have believed me if I were him. Hell, I knew I never believed anyone when they told me the same thing two years earlier. But in that instant, two things happened. I got really, really scared. And I just decided to walk through it.

“Dude, listen to me (even in my frantic frame of mind, I remember distinctly that I called him dude). I promise you. Do you hear me? Seriously. I promise you that if you just sit tight and don't go anywhere or do anything, I will be there as quickly as I can and I will help you. Can you do that? Please?”

Now, I'd like to say that I was able to hang up the phone at that point and swing into action, but that's not how it went. It was about five more minutes of him talking about them and me pleading with him to just hang tight. I finally convinced him that he could make it till I got there, which was a pretty significant feat since I wasn't convinced AT ALL that he could make it until I got there.

I hung up the phone and started to grab all my stuff together. “I gotta get going. He's about to completely lose it.” I obviously wasn't really thinking clearly because at that point my plan was to take the subway – alone – from Brooklyn to Washington Heights and rescue him myself. Fortunately, my three friends were there to give me a quick reality check.

“Ummm. You're not going alone. And it will take you 90 minutes to get there by subway. I'll drive.”

Here I was about two years sober and I still hadn't grasped that this is what we do. We help each other. And if I was going to help someone, they were going to help me. And if you know anything at all about alcoholics and drug addicts, you know that this simple concept is possibly the most miraculous thing about recovery. Help you? While I was using meth, I'd have stepped over your unconscious body to get to the pipe. 

So off three of us went (I told the host that he was already home so he could probably stay there – how many crackheads does it take to rescue someone from an imaginary mob) to Buddy's apartment.

It was probably a 30-minute drive. There wasn't that much traffic fortunately and I don't remember the weather being anything problematic. Still, it seemed like it took two days to get there. I just sat in the back seat thinking about Buddy probably curled up in a fetal position or pacing throughout the apartment looking for somewhere to hide. Most likely he was alternating between both of those things. I don't know why I didn't just stay on the phone with him the whole time we were on our way there, but like I said, this was my first experience of this sort. I did call him about halfway there to let him know we were almost there. If I never hear that kind of terror in someone's voice again, I'll be totally OK with that.

When we got there, I remember thinking that I would have hated living in this apartment building when I was using because it was attackable from almost everywhere. There was a courtyard, an interior hallway. I think he was on the first floor, which is just craziness. At least in my apartment they needed hovercrafts to spy on me. Fortunately for them, somehow that technology existed in my mind.

What happened next has almost nothing to do with Buddy, but it's my most clear memory of the night. We went in the apartment and got Buddy to sit down. While my friends tried to calm him, I decide to go and get the rest of the crystal meth and flush it down the toilet. I asked him where it was and he told me. Off I went to the bathroom. Less than a minute later, they heard me yelling, “SOMEONE GET IN HERE NOW!”

My one friend came scurrying in to find out what could be so important and saw me just holding the bag in one hand and the pipe in the other, staring at them. “Uhh, what's going on?”

I just stood there frozen. “I'm not sure. I don't like having this in my hand but I can't seem to let it go.”

After a breath or two, his presence next to me calmed me down and I flushed it. But in that moment I realized why we don't ever do these things alone. If I had been there by myself with that in my hand, I have no idea what might have transpired. After that we went and smashed the pipe and threw it away.

Here's something strange. When I was smoking meth, I must have broken at least a pipe a week. Every time I turned around I was breaking another one. However, every time I've ever tried to smash one intentionally to break it, it's taken way more effort than I expected.

The rest of the night is a little foggy for me. I know my friend dropped Buddy and I off at Roosevelt Hospital, where I was completely overwhelmed by the kindness and the compassion of the nurses there. I remember that they sedated Buddy and as he started to get groggy he made some comment about the hand sanitizer container on the wall talking to him (with any luck he'll remember that part in his account). But really, all my adrenaline was drained by then and I was just happy that he was safe.

The only other thing I remember is that I sat on the subway on my way back to Brooklyn and for the first time ever, I was grateful that I had been psychotic when I used meth. I'm sure I'm not the only person that could have helped Buddy that night, but I know that I understood everything he was going through. It was because I understood that I knew I couldn't just tell him to get some rest. Why I knew I had make sure he knew I didn't think he was crazy. And why I knew I had to stay with him in that ER until he was completely unconscious and getting admitted. I have never once since that night been resentful about all the paranoia and delusions I endured. To even be able to help one person get through one night, it was worth every minute.


  1. "And the only time people ever helped me was when that's what they had to do to get to my drugs."

    This is entirely untrue. It may be how you remember it, but it isn't true. It isn't true at all.

    I'm glad you've taken the time to write, Petr. I always like reading your posts. Because I know you'd prefer that I not reference anything specific, you can email me for a partial list of the sorts of things that people did for you when you were at and near your bottom.

    One of the program's lessons is about learning to live a life of gratitude. I'm very happy that you are grateful for your current support system. I don't think it's fair, though, to insinuate that people who aren't and weren't in the program had little interest in you beyond the drugs with which you'd surrounded yourself. There were certainly characters whose relationships with you were mostly about themselves but, in those instances, you were very likely thinking mostly of yourself.

    I'm glad you're not hearing things any longer. That was very scary for everybody who cared about you. And dealing with it was a tightrope walk. I'm glad that your sobriety allows me to be much more direct about these things.

  2. I'll never forget that night either. I remember the meth was in a box of Bounce fabric softener. Thanks for posting.