The first time I was in rehab was over the Christmas holidays of 2016. I put myself there for the Christmas holidays on purpose because I didn’t want deal with them. Partly because I had nowhere to celebrate them and partly because if I did find a place to celebrate them, I knew I would end up poisoning myself with alcohol. Upon my arrival at the facility, they took all of my belongings away and started my detox process. I spent two days in bed where they regularly shot me up with vitamins and diazepam. They brought my meals to my room as I was mostly too out of it to walk to the cafeteria on the detox floor. After about three days I was sober enough and detoxed enough to walk about the facility on my own but only on the detox floor. Nobody in detox was allowed to go to any other part of the facility.
While I was detoxing the rest of the patients were having meetings in a communal room that was in the very middle of the floor. The meetings seemed to happen every 90 minutes starting at 9am. They would have different counselors that would come into the common room and speak to the folks for 60 minutes and then there would be a 30-minute break. These meetings happened all day long until 9:00 PM. At first, I didn’t know what they were about except that it was obviously some form of counseling for people who are addicts. I mostly stayed in my room writing in a notebook they gave me and drawing pictures of anything I found amusing using whatever art supplies I could find. As I would walk past a meeting looking for colored pencils or paper or pens or anything I could make art with the counselors would always ask me to join and I would politely say I didn’t want to contribute just yet. Around day five I decided to sit in on one of the meetings to see what they were talking about. The focus was on addictive behavior and what we were like as addicts and how we would need to learn some skills to maintain a life of sobriety. The meetings were all self-help and healing oriented but in the evening, at 8:00 PM, there was a different meeting. It was always a guest speaker from either an AA group or an NA group where they drilled the 12 steps of recovery into our still healing minds. I was very suspicious of this evening meeting and not open minded about it at all but I sat through them anyway and only halfway listened because I didn’t think that they had much to say to me. I am a curious person and wanted to see what a 12 step program was about.
One of the things I did notice was that of all the people in detox I was one of the least fucked up. I could hold down a job, I could keep a roof over my head I had never been arrested or been in prison. I was surrounded by some real casualties of substance abuse. I found it to be interesting that a lot of people that came into the detox were put there by outside forces. Their family or the legal system had put them there and they had no qualms about stating they had no desire or interest in getting sober. I knew I was closed minded to many of the things spoken of in the meetings but the people’s minds that were admitted involuntarily were closed and locked to processing any information about recovery. They were dismissive, angry and disruptive almost every waking moment of every day there.
It was also interesting to see people coming into detox on their first day and then gradually see them turn into completely different people over the course of their first few days. Some of the people that came in the door on their first day were absolute zombies -- shuffling around and unresponsive to any interaction. I don’t think they knew exactly where they were for the first two or three days. One of them was this man named Vincent. He had overdosed somewhere in Patterson New Jersey and got picked up by the police. After being in the hospital getting revived and patched back up the police brought Vincent into the detox facility at Sunrise House. He was in such sad shape when he walked in the door that they had obviously done the bare minimum it took to get him into a mobile and lucid state. He was literally walking wounded. He was a young, 28-year-old Spanish man with light brown curly hair and very light eyes. They were very striking-distinctive even because they were a light tan almost golden color. The staff took him to his room where he spent the next three or four days detoxing. We practically never saw him his first few days, however, we could hear his shouts and screams coming from his room all hours of the day and night. Vincent was having a very, very hard time as drugs were leaving his system. He would come out of his room to go to the bathroom wearing a bathrobe and slippers. He would shuffle past all of us looking for all the world like a wild animal. He didn’t speak to anyone. At meal time would just go straight to the cafeteria and grab any random plate of food there and take it back to his room. Then one day when we were all lining up to get breakfast when he appeared and looked like a completely different person. He was wearing regular clothes and his hair was combed and his clothing was tidy and he had a little bit of a smile on his face. The person who was little more than a wounded animal less than a week before was a handsome man. People were talking to him and asking how he was feeling and if he was alright. Individually we went around and introduced ourselves and tried to make Vincent feel welcome. He was mostly interested in how he had come to be there. He had absolutely no idea where he was. His last memory had been of being in the hospital and his memory before that was scoring junk in Patterson. After breakfast on the first day he had come out of his room and was becoming aware again his main focus was on getting in touch with his mother. Since he did know where he was, he was pretty sure his mother had no idea where he was either, and it was very concerning for him. He wanted to let his mother know he wasn’t dead. He found it especially upsetting that it was December 23, just two days before Christmas, and he didn’t want his mother to not know where he was on Christmas day. He felt a desperate need to make sure his mother knew that he was safe and that where he was spending Christmas Day wasn’t in jail. He repeatedly kept saying he was very tired of breaking her heart. Part of the protocol at that facility upon entering detox is that you are not allowed any communication with the outside world AT ALL. Not no way. Not no how. It was 100% against the rules for a person in detox to make any communication with the outside world. So, for Vincent it was incredibly frustrating and was causing him an unmeasurable level of stress. One of the things most concerning to him was that he needed a counselor that could speak Spanish because his mother didn’t speak any English. He was practically hysterical with emotion trying to communicate to the rest to the staff that he needed to get in contact with his mother. I truly felt for the fellow. It was frustrating to see. But the staff was completely inflexible. Evidently, they had heard every excuse in the book to make a phone call that ended up with someone in detox somehow or other getting drugs into detox and taking them or sharing them with other patients. After a day of this, and after what also appeared to be a very large meeting with some of the higher-ups in the facility the staff decided that Vincent could make the phone call on speaker phone with a counselor present that was fluent in Spanish.
His appearance and demeanor after the phone call was magical. He became lighthearted and humorous and witty and started engaging in conversation. He seemed to have a change of opinion about the facility and its counselors and everyone around him. It was as if he didn’t mind being there as much and quite possibly thought that being in the facility was a good idea. Someone, I’m not sure who, either the staff or his family got him a set of barber’s clippers and combs that made him very happy. It turns out that Vincent was a barber in the outside world. He wasn’t allowed to have any real scissors, but was allowed to have the electric clippers and one of those scissors with the rounded ends kids use in kindergarten.
On Christmas morning right after breakfast Vincent asked, “Would anyone like a Christmas present?”. Some of the guys jokingly asked him if he had drawn up an escape plan or built a rope out of his sheets so they could get out of the facility. He said it was nothing like that but right after our lunch break any man that wanted a haircut could come to the men’s shower and he would give us all a trim. So that’s what we did on Christmas day 2016.
It was fun and amusing. Like a little rehab party of newly met strangers in the very large gymnasium style men’s shower. We were all in the men’s room together without any adult supervision so we could say and do whatever we wanted for a short while. It was all men from very different walks of life and experiences. A lawyer, an event planner, a car salesman that worked for corporate BMW a few laborer’s in a variety of construction skills, a school teacher and two lifelong drug dealers that had known each other through prison and a college student and myself. A very odd Christmas gathering for everyone there. Vincent was a very skilled barber. There was one black man that wanted to have a shape cut into his hair onto the side of his head like a lightning bolt. He kept calling it his “detox bolt”. I just got a trim and he shaved all the baby hair off my neck. I truly looked much fresher than I had in weeks.
All that day, because it was Christmas day, there was very little staff. Since there were no counselors our daily meetings of group therapy were replaced by volunteer 12-step speaker after 12-step speaker after 12-step speaker after 12-step speaker. Speaking for myself, except for the haircut party, the day was torturous.
During the last meeting of the day on Christmas day, that began at 8pm as usual, I was crammed onto a couch with several men all sporting sharp haircuts. I was glazing over lost in my own thoughts paying zero attention to the speaker. The speaker was going on and on about some point he was making when Vincent suddenly stood up as if he had something very important to say. The speaker stopped talking and we all looked at him as he took several steps towards the door to the shower. He had an odd look on his face like he was worried about something and as he stepped off the rug onto the tile floor, he toppled over stiff as a board and smacked his head and face on the floor with an audible thump. Everyone jumped from their seats as Vincent began to have a massive seizure on the floor convulsing like a lively fish on a line. Then everyone began shouting in unison. I ran to the nurse’s station and banged on the door furiously and shouted “Someone’s having a seizure out here!” The door opened immediately, and I pointed in Vincent’s direction. She could see a throng of shouting people down the hall and ran to the commotion for literally one second and then turned around and came straight back to the office. I stood there watching and staying out of the way. She picked up the phone and pushed a button and said something quickly into the receiver and then hung up. Then she rummaged around under a table and pulled out an extremely large red gym bag with a large white cross on all four of its sides. She struggled with the bag a moment and got it onto her shoulder and trotted down the hall towards the commotion. The bag was almost the same size she was. I sat on the cushy chair outside the nurse’s station and watched from a distance. While I had been getting the nurse another counsellor had appeared and had turned Vincent onto his side and put his thigh under Vincent’s head and was trying to prevent him from banging his head any further. As I sat there a few women patients squeezed around the throng and headed towards where I was sitting starting to go back to their rooms. As they passed me, one of the women was sobbing heavily and the other two were trying to comfort her. The nurse started shouting for everyone to go back to their rooms and get out of the way. As people slowly started to separate the elevator door opened and two ambulance men appeared with a gurney. They fussed with Vincent on the floor for a few short moments and then in an instant he was on the gurney and being rolled past me towards the larger elevator on the women’s hall. As Vincent rolled past his face looked peaceful like a sleeping child except for a big lump over his left eye. They had strapped him onto the gurney on his side in a loose fetal position and had thrown a blanket over him in a manner that could described as indifferent.
I was discharged from the facility on December 30th 2016. Being discharged from rehab is chaotic and the wheels don’t move as fast as you want and I was running around the facility from office to office doing paperwork. As I was sitting in one of the medical areas waiting on some paper or other to sign the nurse that tended to Vincent with the big red bag was helping me. I commended her on her actions that night and related my experience of it. She commended me as well for coming to get her as quick as I did since everyone else was just gawking at Vincent on the floor. Then she proceeded to fill me in on the situation with Vincent and I did the same. Then the two us pieced together his whole story from our separate experiences with him. Prior to our acquaintance with Vincent, he had been suffering from debilitating headaches and at his mothers insistence she had taken him to a doctor for tests. Vincent had spoken to us upstairs in detox of the headaches and the testing and remarked that he didn’t have the headaches when he was high on heroin. Heroin gave him relief that nothing else could. After all the tests were done Vincent had gone on a heroin bender and completely disappeared into the streets of Patterson. While Vincent was missing in action on a drug fueled rager his mother received the test results and they showed Vincent had a brain tumor and needed immediate medical attention. She had a son running around Patterson high on heroin with a bomb in his head. While he was screaming from his detox bed part of the screams might have been withdrawal from drugs and some might have been from the tumor inside his brain. Vincent was unaware he even had a tumor.
Wherever Vincent may be I hope he is well.
For myself, after that rehab I spent my first sober New Years Eve in my adult life alone and felt it was a triumph. However, I was drinking again 3 months later. I hadn’t learned my lesson yet and I didn’t learn it 18 moths after that and I didn’t learn it 7 months after that.
My Life had to change It took a while to learn that; Learning can be slow