Excerpt from ‘Presage in a Bottle,’ by J. L. Forbes

Presage

Twice in my life I nearly drowned in the undercurrent of the ocean. Both times I was caught off-guard by waves of mass erosion sucking and folding me into the lethal body of water like a listless rag-doll. In milliseconds, the shoreline morphed from beauty to beast; first fulfilling my soul, then virtually robbing me of my young life. One of those times, my head crashed into the seaboard. I spun mercilessly inside the rifting tide, which harshly indicated my own vicinity between the water and the land beyond the whirlwind. I was lucky to hit my head regardless of the pain and shock. I dizzily anchored my knees and palms into the sandy floor, offering me enough leverage to stand and save myself. Both of those perilous times, I was dragged, hurled, slammed, twisted and regurgitated. I panicked in the terror of death’s taunt each time, and was instantly alleviated when my pleading lungs sucked in air instead of salt water.

Years later I dreamed of saving a drowning baby girl from a ravage river. Saving her almost took my own life. I pulled her in from the back of a moving speed boat; painfully gripping the wooden swim step with one hand while pulling her out of the river with the other. She was going to die if I didn’t use every fragment of my own strength to rescue her. My heroine tactics sufficed. The girl was brought to surface and survived. She was an infant. I lifted her, handed her over to the people aboard the boat, and then pulled myself to safety.

Upon awakening I knew exactly what the dream meant, although it would be several years before I took heed and followed the path of my heroine self. I fervently remained a drowning child in the hollows of alcoholic bottles and benders with every intention of dying drunk. At the end of my drinking I didn’t care about living. Problem was, I could not drink enough to die. At the end of every bottle and blackout, I found myself awake in the same world I was trying to drown myself out of. Each time I should have died, I awoke in a hospital attached to needles pumping liquid life into me. Goddammit I wanted to remain asleep. Where is my Vodka?

Washing up into a detox facility was me finally saving myself. It was my decision to go. Still drunk from several days of heavy boozing, I was stained with urine, bruised from tumbling on sidewalks and streets, scratched all over from trying to sleep in bushes believing it would be a great place to hide from my desperately searching husband. My right knee was inflated with fluid from clumsy collapses. My palms scraped and bloodstained; face, stomach, feet and fingers swollen with liquor, skin dehydrated and taut, eyes bloodshot and expressive of exhaustion, terror and humiliation. Facing myself in the mirror was seeing an enigma of myself. Who is this lost girl? Where am I?

Cherry Hill Detox felt like shore to me after many nights of drifting out at sea. Even the dry ham sandwiches and watered down tea were satisfactory, as well as the thin plastic mattresses and ongoing commotions from people suffering in withdrawal. Their horror was all too familiar. Sometimes I laughed in sinister appreciation, but mostly I related and empathized in quiet agony and sadness. Opiate detox is excruciating and messy. I’d been in their sweaty sheets a few times when I’d swapped alcohol for pharmaceuticals in a shallow and brief attempt at sobriety. Before my own alcohol wore off during the first night in the facility, I observed what was ahead for me in the likes of other addicts; my hopeless brothers and sisters. What should have been disturbing felt harmonious in comparison to the drunken awfulness of passing out alone in the back seat of my car, or in vacant fields where I always hoped to wake up before being discovered by someone who would overreact at the norms of an everyday drunk.

A presage is a foreboding of things to come. Negative things. An omen of sorts. It isn’t a word I even knew while facing my alcoholism in the end, but you don’t have to know fancy words in order to make intuitive decisions. Intuition does not require any thinking or logistics. It’s a simple knowing of things to come and which direction to follow. Both intuitively and cognitively I knew my ass needed serious help. I had been identifying myself as an alcoholic for seven years by this time.

The morning I went into detox, I was so frightened of my self-destructive behavior, that I completely embraced everything that resulted after walking through those clinical double glass doors. I was in a state of complete surrender, and this is where one needs to be in order to recover. It’s really the bottom line. Surrendering is the foundation of true recovery. And the surrender must be eternal. There is no wavering here. There is no taking back the reigns. You are fucked if you think you get to ever be in control again. When I say “fucked,” I mean, rock bottom becomes a deeper and denser pit. This pit is muddied with terror and self-deprivation. Once you start sliding down that pit, there is less and less in this world, and of yourself, to grab a hold of. Once a person has given up on themselves, all hope dissipates into the wasteland of their own disgrace.

This was the presage in my bottle. The emptiness of every dry liquor container mirrored my internal state of desolation. I knew what was at the end of every bottle. It was more disconnection from who I was, and all of the dreams I ever had for myself, which were many. It was despair beyond measure. No matter the size of my bottle (a half pint, a pint, a fifth, or a five-bottle box of cheap wine), there was never enough. Never enough booze to wet the desert inside of me. It wasn’t even numbing me out anymore. It was scaring me and sucking the life out of me, yet it wasn’t killing me.

I would eventually cry. Tears would come in ample time, but now I needed to be alert and aware of my surroundings. Relief and the need for survival in this rancid place dammed my frolicking emotions; parting them from the single particle of sanity burrowed in like a calcified gem within the twisted and haunted confines of my mind. You dare not mix one last morsel of sanity with ravaging emotions. In inconsiderate monstrosity, emotion shall devour sanity.

There really is no diversity in addiction when I think about it now. There is no skin color, fat, thin, tall, short or intellectual vs. idiot. The only difference between us is what drug we abuse the most. Even that doesn’t matter because real addicts only care about one thing and one thing only – where their next hit is coming from. We all relate and empathize with one another on that wretched level. There is a safe and harrowing bond between us all.

(Coming soon to Amazon)

http://www.amazon.com/J.-L.-Forbes/e/B00HS980ZI/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1426859153&sr=1-1

What Path of Treatment is Best for You?

Path toward Mt. Tam

Each time I go to an AA meeting with a speaker who says they got sober in AA, and they have several years sober because of AA, and they are living it up (thanks to AA) – I stir in my seat.  AA works for a lot of people.  That rigorous honesty thing and sponsorship is the answer for many.  It also doesn’t work for many because some of us are too clever for our own good.  I remember often wanting a drink after some of those meetings.  It takes a willingness beyond the desire to drink in order to do the work and to surround yourself with people who can support you along the way.  It takes discipline, and that’s a word I couldn’t relate to back then.

When I first started going to AA, I had no idea how self-centered I was, and I was one of those who worked my own program.  I thought I was being honest with my sponsor, but in retrospect I see that I had my own agenda.  Some people realize early on in their drinking (before several multi-car train wrecks) that they need help, and they are smart enough to get their ass straightened out before it gets rock bottom embarrassing.  Not me.  I wanted to see how far I could wrestle with my affliction of alcoholism before it took me to places that I wouldn’t dare confess to a priest (although I’m not Catholic, but they supposedly hear a lot of terrible things in those little booths).  I had to scrape my ass on the rocky bottom of the hole that I dug myself into (not once, but several times over).  It was a seven year rock bottom for me.  AA was the piece of cake that I ate during those seven years, which kept me briefly sober.  In other words, I needed something more intense than a meeting once or twice a day.  My self-destruction and self-loathing was beyond those thin walls that displayed posters of steps and helpful sayings.  I know I’m not the only one here.

I had no idea that there were several treatment centers in the Bay Area (where I live) that were county funded.  If I had known it during those seven years of my toilet bowl spiral, I would have most likely got the help I needed a lot sooner, but I may have not been so desperate for help then, to choose the most intense treatment center of the bunch (besides Delancey Street in San Francisco, which is two years of militant rehabilitation).  I may have gone for easy-street and chosen a program that let me do whatever I wanted, which was mostly sit around and watch tv, eat garbage and drink coffee.  I know a lot of people who go into treatment for a sabbatical from life.  That doesn’t work.  I went to a sixth month program that ripped my head out of my ass and slammed it into the mirror until I saw my bad behaviors around my drinking so clearly that I pretty much left there licking my wounds.  I was chastised and humbled and awakened.  Reality slammed me in that program like madness into the Hatter.  I woke up to myself and saw what I was, which was a piece of shit.  But six months of that, plus ten months of sober-living and aftercare, brought me to complete wholeness in myself.  I know a lot of people who go to 30-60 day treatment programs and come out of it feeling refreshed and alive, just to discover that they can’t cope in the real world.  You’re safe in those programs, you see, and then suddenly you’re exposed to reality again.  When I graduated from New Bridge Foundation (in Berkeley), I not only coped in the real world, but I knew exactly who I was and what I wanted in the real world, and I knew how to go after it, sober.  That’s the place I wanted to be, so that’s why I chose a behavior modification program as opposed to a cushy institution with TVs and endless pots of coffee.  I was willing.  When I first got into New Bridge, everything was weird and regiment.  The clients wore slacks and button down shirts.  There were a thousand rules to follow, and a hundred plastic red chairs.  The counselors kept saying, “hold onto your red chair.”  It was confusing at first, and everything got under my skin.  I was angry often, and bored, and annoyed, but I kept sitting in those red chairs, and standing in their infamous mirror, and eventually, I “got it.”

Here I am nearly four years later, and I know beyond the shadow of doubt if I were stuck on a deserted island out in the middle of nowhere, by myself, with a shit ton of fermenting fruit surrounding me, and there were no AA meetings to speak of, I would not get drunk.  That’s the place I wanted to be in my sobriety.  More than anything, I just wanted to trust myself, so I guess the question you have to ask yourself when choosing a route of sobriety is, where do you want to see yourself at the end?  What kind of sobriety do you want?  Do you want to live your life to the fullest, or do you want to struggle for the remainder of your life with your affliction?  Do you want to know how to live a fulfilling existence sober, or do you want to just get by?  Because it really is your choice.  I don’t go to many AA meetings.  I go hiking.  I go to the beach often.  I write as much as I breathe.  I meditate and listen to positive speakers on YouTube.  I spend a lot of time with my family.  I surround myself with people who are filled with integrity and who love me dearly.  I laugh often.  I go to meetings sometimes to recall what it was like.  I do a constant inventory of my life, and when I’m wrong, I admit it as soon as possible.  I know a lot of people go to meetings to give back to Newcomers, and I think that’s amazing.  I try to give back to the world everyday I’m in it.  I do my best with what I have.  I put up a lot of boundaries with people, even if it means pissing them off, because it keeps me centered and sober.  I stay spiritually connected and surrender to things I have no control over, everyday.  That’s what treatment did for me, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way, even though it sucked much of the time.  I’m eternally grateful for that place.  I still have friends from New Bridge, and most of my graduating group is still sober and very strong as a whole.  That’s pretty incredible right there.

If you are trying to figure out how to stay sober, you’ve got to be willing to do the work.  It isn’t easy, but you don’t have to do everything at once.  You get to do it one moment at a time, and there will be a lot of support around you during the process.  Whether you choose AA, NA, or a rigorous program like I did, do it willingly and with discipline.  Do it to the point that you get to a place where you completely trust yourself.  Because until you completely trust yourself, you are a slave to your drug of choice.  So ask yourself exactly what it is you want, and then go the distance.  There are so many resources and programs that are county and state funded.  If you are worried about leaving work behind, and leaving your family during treatment, think of how not-present you are for your job and family now.  Ninety days or six months of treatment is a drop in the bucket.  When I got out, I found a job immediately and my family was happier than ever to see me.  They rooted me on throughout the entire process, and they supported me going in there because they were tired of my shit.  I have a friend who’s job was waiting for him a year later.  The universe will fall into place for you when you get the help you need.  It truly will, so do whatever it takes, and do it as intensely as you went after your high.  That’s the way to go, and if you have any questions about my journey, please feel free to write them in the comments below, or email me at ArticulatingMagic@gmail.com.