Thursday, August 13, 2015

The first night

I remember what I wore on the night I went into rehab, because I had chosen the outfit carefully. I don't remember what I was told to take, or what I packed.

I remember standing in my aunt's kitchen in Richmond, tearfully explaining why I felt I had to go. I remember the look of skepticism on my uncle's face.

He rolled his eyes when I said I was depressed. "Everyone gets depressed," he said, widening his eyes and making an expression as he said depressed to indicate the term itself was worthy of ridicule. Wasn't I overreacting just a bit? Wasn't I taking things a bit far?

No, I shook my head forcefully. No, I hadn't been taking things far enough. Later I would find that my uncle had been depressed for many years himself but would do nothing, and his reaction took on a deeper meaning.

It wouldn't matter if they agreed, I knew I had to go - so I went.

My mother found a facility with the help of my late father's associates in therapy, and one foggy autumn morning in London I boarded a plane and flew to the Willough in Naples, Florida. I would stay there for four weeks, enrolled in a program for eating disorders and alcohol abuse.

I remember that my driver was kind. He picked me up at the airport, not a usual cabbie but a driver sent especially for my collection and transportation to the rehab. I remember that he had some experience with the job.

He knew what to say. I don't remember what he said.

I remember being scared.

Inside the rehab, I stood in the hallway with my suitcase. It was late at night and the hallway was dark, the only illumination provided by the dim florescent lighting of an office where a technician processed my paperwork.

I was nineteen years old and wore a short grey gingham dress. The dress was sleeveless and trendy, A-line and short, to be worn with tights and slip-on shoes. It was more preppy and smart than my usual style, but I was trying to make an impression. I wanted them to think I looked good. I wanted them to like me.

My long brown hair lay brushed and golden, shining on my shoulders, and my face bore a subtle but effective application of make-up, consisting of dark brown mascara, a dusting of blush, and a lip gloss that enhanced my natural shade.

I never felt pretty, but knew people found me to be so. It was something I could count on, their comments and sideways glances. Inside I felt empty, but I would try to make myself look pleasing. It was the only thing I had.

The nurse checking me in was gentle, but did not care one fig about my dress or shining hair. What she cared about was when I last had a drink - had it been recently? What about any other mood-altering substances? She went methodically through her list.

I answered all of her questions, balking at some - was she kidding? Of course I didn't have any alcohol or drugs with me, I was here to recover. She explained that some people arriving at rehab are still drunk or high, having gone on one last binge as they know they are about to quit. Some try to escape.

To me that sounded like the stuff of nightmares. I had been sick too many times, was sick of feeling sick. I was tired of what I had been doing, could not tolerate it any longer. I didn't know what would happen if I had to go through it again, even one more time.

She thought that this was good.

When she finished her questions, she recorded my weight and blood pressure, then transferred me to another nurse who would take me to my room.

We entered the room quietly, as the only other occupant lay sleeping. There were two beds, and I put my suitcase on the one that was uninhabited. The nurse stepped in front of it, and in the light cast by the small bedside lamp, I saw her motion for me to open it. I looked at her expectantly.

"I need to go through your things," she said. 

Piece by piece, article by article, she went through my bags until a large pile of belongings lay on one side of the bed and a separate, smaller pile lay on the other, near the nurse - these were the articles I would not be allowed to keep while I was there.

No books allowed, books were a no-no, as they distracted from the overall purpose of my stay, which was to reflect and recover. Likewise, there would be no phones, magazines, or television. The latter did not surprise me, but the no-book thing came as a shock.

Also being withheld was my hairbrush, as the handle was plastic and pointed, which as the nurse demonstrated, could be wielded as a weapon to harm myself or others.

My mouth fell open in surprise as she said this and I had to consciously close it, as I tried to conjure a scene in my mind where I might become so desperate that I would try to gouge myself or others with the end of my hairbrush... nope, no, couldn't think of one. But I had another brush anyway, so I shrugged, yes, you can take it.

As if the choice was mine.

The last to go was a small bottle of face wash, thick and green from the Body Shop, with extracts of tree tea oil. Unfortunately for me it also contained alcohol, so I wasn't allowed to keep it. My face scrunched up as she gave me the reason and I nearly opened my mouth to object, wondering if she could really believe I would go so far as to drink my own face wash, this viscous stuff with the consistency of hair gel, just to get high, but I closed my mouth as I looked at her face and thought better of it.

Just give her the face wash.

I nodded, yes, you can take it. Which was really more like yes, I understand why you are taking it.

I looked at my bed, slightly demoralized so far. I wanted her to go, so I could lie on the cool clean sheets. I had not started my first day, but I was already getting a sense of the type of place I was in.

Not everyone was here with such an outright focus on getting clean and staying clean. Not everyone was above tricks, above looking for ways they could sneak things in, or get around the system. My willingness to be here, my volunteering to come on my own, to step forward into recovery would not be heralded with open arms and waves of cheers and support, but rather with a wary and weary nod, and even regarded with suspicion.

My nurse was already thinking of things I would not have even conceived of when it came to hurting myself or sidelining my own recovery.

I let go of these thoughts, exhausted. Perhaps she knew things I could not, of course she did, for she had been here much longer. I would learn more about this place, about my roommate, the very next morning.

Breakfast was at 8:00, in the cafeteria the next morning. Group therapy was at 9:00, right after. For me, this had not even been Day 1.

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