Continued from She's Always There, Pt. 2 ...
I know better than to ask if they’ll give me anything for my anxiety because they won’t. They’ll think I’m pill-seeking, an assessment with which I’m not even remotely comfortable. Plus, they can’t even administer aspirin. At least, not here… not in limbo. This is a place of drying out. This place is the physical manifestation of cold turkey.
Still, I can’t sleep because of my anxiety, which coils in my gut like wrestling snakes. The buzz I’d ridden in here is long gone, and I’ve reached the point where even I (a two-time veteran of places like this) am beginning to question my decision to admit myself.
With Paul the Wino gone it is just me, straight hair girl, and the woman in isolation, who’d been quiet now for some time. It’s 2:22am. Make a wish. It feels now like I’ve been here for days, drifting in and out of consciousness.
My anxiety flares, tightening my chest and making it harder for me to breathe. My mind flits between what I can remember of my angry texts with my mother and the unnecessary guilt trip I’d sent Kay on. I can’t remember the details now, only the feeling, that deep, eviscerating remorse that comes when I return to my sober self and wonder what the Hyde to my Jekyll has done while in control of me.
I should ask them to let me out. I’ll never do this again, I’m sure of it. I’ll never lift the bottle to my lips for as long as breath passes between them. A part of me actually believes this, but I know myself way too well to back out now.
Laughter at the nurses station. My gaze lifts from the polished tile of the floor in time to see the ladies at the desk clustered around the one token male, seated before them with a cell phone held up for their amusement. I have no idea how long it will be before I have my own phone back. Part of me acknowledges that I’m better off without it.
The TV crackles on. The girl with the straight hair is up prodding at the wall-mounted flat panel, searching through the warrens of basic cable for something besides late night infomercials.
The light comes on in the isolation room. The TV has apparently stirred the faceless woman within, and she immediately resumes screeching like a banshee.
I glance back to the girl with the straight hair, who has by now settled back into her chair across from me, face buried in her hands, shoulders heaving up and down as she weeps. Apparently she’s no longer concerned with finding something to watch on TV. Left on is The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews is singing about how she has confidence and confidence alone.
Must be nice.
“How do you feel today?” The doctor asks. He is the second or third one I’ve seen so far. My first thought upon laying eyes on him is of my great grandmother pointing out a man in the mall when I was a child and marveling, “Ain’t he some black!” Nan wasn’t a racist as far as I know, just very blunt and unambiguous when it came to voicing what was on her mind. She’d often point out people in wheelchairs while we were out and about and encourage me to count my blessings.
So yeah, the doctor is black, and I myself feel like a borderline racist as I sit here before him, stripped of every ounce of white privilege I’d ever enjoyed.
With a smile I answer, “I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful,” trying my best to achieve that perfect What About Bob? mumble. Disarming people with humor is my go-to move, but I consistently forget that humor is often misconstrued as madness in places like this. “I feel fine,” I say, dropping the Bill Murry accent.
“No thoughts of hurting yourself or others?” He glances occasionally up from his yellow legal pad.
“Are you hearing voices or seeing things that others aren’t?”
“How did you sleep last night?” All business.
“Like a baby,” I answer, not bothering to address the fact that my roommate kept the room at 50 degrees all night with the air conditioner running. It was a good thing I’d gathered all the blankets I could the day before while trying my best to disappear into my mattress.
“Have you been eating?”
“Yes.” Though we both know that I’ve missed a couple meals.
“And how are your bowel movements?”
“I’ve had just one this morning. Nothing loose.”
More scribbles on his legal pad. “Have you been to groups?”
Ah, yes, groups. If there was anything they were more hawkish about than groups in the BHU, it was AA meetings held every morning and evening. Spiritual enlightenment. Coping skills. Animal therapy. Depending on the mixture of people, groups were either flawlessly on point or recklessly off topic. The problem with places like this is that nearly everyone has the same general delusion that everyone else is obsessively interested in what a single individual has to say. This isn’t to say that there aren’t useful lessons to be taken away from groups, but they are often little more than maddeningly frustrating.
“Not yet,” I answer cautiously. There is no point in trying to lie, he already knows the answers to all of these questions.
“What do you hope to take away from your time here?”
“That’s the million dollar question,” I answer. “I’ve been inside places like this three times, and it’s always been helpful, but I think this time I made a mistake.”
This man is old enough, it seems, to have heard every response in the book. I peg him at a solid 52 years given the bald dome of his head and encircling salt and pepper hair. He says simply, “Why is that?”
“Every time I’ve been inside a behavioral health unit I’ve relied on the system to fix me, and I’ve emerged feeling... well, fixed. That’s been my mistake. I should have left feeling able to continue healing and growing stronger. I should have been willing to help myself by letting those I love help me.”
His eyebrows lift, creasing his forehead. Setting the legal pad down on the desk between us, he leans forward and presses the tips of his fingers together against the nub of his nose, as if he intends to pray. “That’s very insightful,” he muses. “But it doesn’t answer my question. What do you want from this place? What can we do for you?”
I shrug, “I want to be released to my grandmother. I want to get my girlfriend back. I want to find the me that I lost somewhere in a bottle of scotch.” I still hadn't answered his question. We both knew it.
He frowns, glancing at the computer monitor on the desk to his right. “When you were admitted two nights ago you said that you were feeling helpless and wanted to hang yourself.”
Shit. I don’t remember saying that. Still, this is my modus operandi when feeling sorry for myself.
“I’m not capable of killing myself,” I say, and it’s true as far as I know. I am a whore for attention when feeling down or threatened, and threatening suicide has always been the best way to make people feel bad for me.
I hate myself, Kay. I want to die.
All of my problems are your fault, Mom. I’m going to kill myself.
“You seemed sure enough to check yourself in here.”
“I was drunk,” I say in an exhale. “I wasn’t thinking right.”
The doctor shrugs, offering his hands to me palm up for emphasis as he presses further, “What’s to stop you from drinking again and going back to that place?”
“I’m never drinking again.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I understand now that every time I drink I do something to ruin my own life. Every time. No amount of booze is worth that. No boozed night out with friends. No PBRs at the end of a hot summer day. It’s just not worth it.”
He nods, snatching his notepad back up and dropping it in his lap before scrawling more notes down. Glancing back up to me, he asks a more pointed question. As in the most pointed question you can ask of an alcoholic. “How can I be sure you aren’t going to go buy a bottle as soon as you leave this place?”
The answer this time is simple: “My grandmother. She’s literally the only person on the planet that terrifies me.”
The doctor nods and scribbles.
A tap on my shoulder draws me out of what I’d call a cross between a waking dream and a daydream. I’m fully reclined, and above me stands the straight hair girl, a look of desperate confusion frozen upon her face.
My first instinct is to glance back at the nurse’s station to see if they are aware of and concerned about her proximity to me, but I’m overtaken instead by a need to preserve what little comfort her poor soul has left.
“Can I… can I help you?” I ask, briefly eying the bruises on her bare arms, which I find are so much more noticeable up close. There are dozens of them.
“Did I wake you up?” she asks, her voice meek and fragile. I watch with some concern as her lower lip begins to tremble. “I—I’m sorry. You didn’t seem asleep.”
“You’re fine,” I sigh, hefting myself up out of the reclined position and watching with little concern as my pillow falls to the floor. As the girl had observed, I hadn’t seemed asleep anyway. “Are you okay?” I ask.
She crosses her arms over her chest and shakes her head almost frantically. She is the poster child of traumatized people on their first rides through behavioral health modification. Her lower lip begins to tremble with more force, the tremor rippling through her body as if she were shivering.
“First time in a place like this?” I ask the obvious, rubbing crusties from my eyes.
She nods. “I’m not crazy.” Her gaze moves to the isolation room. I’m left unsure if she’s stating fact or trying to convince me. Probably both.
“Most people who come to a place like this aren’t,” I say, trying not to follow her gaze to the isolation room door. As if our collective attention focused there might somehow rouse the demon within.
“What about her?” the girl asks, nodding toward the darkened window.
“Don’t be scared of her,” I answer, shaking my head for dramatic emphasis. “She’s more a danger to herself than to us. We’ll be out of here eventually anyway, and they don’t keep people like her with people like us.”
Her face brightens like a veil of clouds surrendering the sun. “Really?” she asks, gushing with the hope of countless others who have been here before her. “Wait, is that why they took the other guy away? This isn’t the real…” she struggles to find the right word, pupils shifting to the corners of their sockets. She gives up, going with what I imagine to be the first label that came to mind: “…mental ward?”
“No,” I say. “Think of this as a big waiting room.” I’m unsurprised that none of this has been explained to her. For a place built upon mental health and recovery, places like these certainly do enjoy leaving people in the lurch with regard to how the admitting process works.
Much of her anxiety and fear drains from her face like a dam wall surrendering to the water it had once held back. “Oh… oh, thank god!” she exclaims, smiling brightly and even moving toward me like she’s about to give me a hug.
“I’m glad you feel better,” I say with a smile.
“I’m Robin,” she says, plopping down in the recliner beside mine.
“Aaron,” I respond. “What brings you to this wonderful place?”
She puckers her lips briefly, then responds without hesitation: “Vodka.”