A Christmas Carol – Grapevine Article August 2007 by Kim M.

From hallucinations to hope

If I close my eyes, I can still feel the sting of cold sleet hitting my face as I walked out of the emergency room that morning. I can still feel the bitter taste in my mouth, and the waves of nausea that rolled through my stomach.

I told the emergency room doctor that I had a terrible stomach virus and had been throwing up for two days. Some stomach virus–it came in bottles of cheap red wine. Two bags of IV fluid, a shot for the nausea, and I was out of there.

I walked toward the cab that one of the emergency room staff had been nice enough to call for me. I had no one to come pick me up. It was Christmas 1995.

This was not how I’d planned to spend Christmas. My parents lived two hours away and my brother, sister, and I were planning to celebrate the holiday with them. I hadn’t yet told them that I had lost my job earlier that week. I hadn’t yet told them that I was drinking again, but it wouldn’t be long until they figured it out, if they hadn’t already–I had a tendency to make rambling, incoherent late-night calls while in blackouts.

I remember walking out of that emergency room embarrassed, sick, and swearing that I would never drink again. I got into the cab and gave the driver my address. All I had was a hundred-dollar bill, and I asked her if she could break it. When she said no, I asked her to look for a convenience store, hoping we could find one open on Christmas morning. I walked into the first open store we found to get some change, and I walked out with three bottles of wine.

How had I gotten to this place? I couldn’t even trust myself to go into a store without buying some type of alcohol, usually wine, sometimes vodka, occasionally cough medicine. I wasn’t some bum living under a bridge. I was a good person. I had graduated magna cum laude from college and in the top third of my medical school. I was a physician. So, how did it come to this?

I called my parents after I got home from the emergency room and told them that I wouldn’t be coming that day; I was having a little problem with my drinking, again, but that I would get it under control. They offered to come get me, but I refused.

Thank God they didn’t come to rescue me. I desperately needed to reach my bottom. For three years, I had been trying to get my drinking under control. I’d had some periods of success, but sooner or later I always drank again. Slowly, I was losing my life and myself.

I spent the next few days in a haze. Every day, I woke up or came to and I thought, Today I’m not going to drink. Last night was the last time. So, I would get up, go to an AA meeting, pick up a white chip and be drunk within a few hours of leaving the meeting. I remember an AA friend calling me, begging me to get help, saying that he skimmed the obituaries daily, fearing that he would see my name.

During this time, my sponsor fired me. I couldn’t believe it. She had been working with me for over two years. During the past six months of multiple relapses, she had stood by me. She never gave up on her sponsees, so I thought she would never leave me. But she did, saying that it was obvious I wasn’t getting what I needed from her. She suggested that I ask “J.” to sponsor me, a woman who had a reputation as a real hard-ass. I had never liked this woman; she was a lawyer and way too pushy for me (I was unable to manipulate her). Of course, this just gave me another reason to drink.

On the third morning after my Christmas trip to the emergency room, my tossing and turning attempts at sleep were disturbed by annoying muttering. No matter how hard I pulled the pillows over my head, I couldn’t escape the noise. Assuming it was the radio, I reached over to turn it off. But the radio wasn’t on. Confused, I staggered out of bed and went into the living room, thinking I must have left the TV on. But no. The TV wasn’t on, either.

I raced through my apartment, looking for the source of the noise. I can remember suddenly stopping, leaning, and sliding down against the wall as the truth dawned on me. The only answer was that the noise was coming from inside my head. The significance of this hit me–I was hearing things. I was having auditory hallucinations.

I threw on some clothes and ran out the door. I was terrified. Remembering back, I probably looked like Ebenezer Scrooge as he maniacally ran out of his house in “A Christmas Carol.” I jumped in the car and headed for the house of a woman I knew from one of the AA meetings. She, too, had a difficult time stopping, but now she had over two years sober. I remembered that she had talked about hearing voices–maybe she could help me. And she did.

She had to be at work shortly, so she dropped me off at the intergroup office for the day–to be baby-sat. It wasn’t safe for me to be alone. I sat in that small, dank room and wondered what to do next. I never had much to do with the “losers” who hung out there; I went to the more high-society meetings. On that day, those “losers” saved my life.

I learned about the fellowship in AA that day. After the noon meeting, five women I hardly knew took me to lunch. My hands were shaking so badly that I couldn’t use a fork, but they helped me eat. I asked one of them, “Don’t you hate me?” I never forgot her reply. “No, Kim, I don’t hate you. I love you; I hate your disease.”

She took me to another meeting, having arranged with one of the other women from lunch to trade me off there. That woman took me to a nearby treatment center, in order to be evaluated for possible detox. While waiting to be seen, I felt sick and stumbled outside, where I threw up on the shoes of the kind lady who had brought me there. It was practically on the front doorstep of my old workplace, since the treatment center was part of the hospital in which I used to practice.

The treatment center staff said I didn’t need inpatient detox, so another kind lady came and took me home with her, where she fed me warm tea with honey and sugar. An old-timer, she had been through many Twelfth Step calls and wasn’t alarmed by my shaking and dry-heaving. She let me rest on her bed until my friend got off work and came for me. That night, I called my new sponsor, the hard-ass, and asked for help.

I had two thousand dollars to my name and no insurance. I called several treatment centers, begging for admittance. Finally, one agreed to take me for twenty-one days, but it was full and would be several days before I could get in. For those few days before I left for treatment, J. gave me direction. She took time out of her busy life to give me lists of what to do to get through the day; things like, “Get out of bed at 8:00. Make the bed. Brush teeth. Eat breakfast. Go to meeting.” I wouldn’t have made it through those days without her guidance.

That was my last drunk Christmas. As horrible and painful as it was, it was the beginning of a new life for me. A few years ago, I was back in my old hometown and went to a meeting. I got there a little late, and rushed in to sit down. As I looked around the room, I saw first one, then another of the women from that day. When I realized that all five of them were there, I began to cry. I think I cried most of the meeting. Not sad tears, but tears of gratitude. Alcoholics Anonymous, in the guise of those five women, my old sponsor, and the hard-ass, had saved my life.

My life today, eleven years later, is indeed better than my wildest dreams. I have a wonderful husband, a great job, and a loving family. My work schedule is filled with patients who trust me to care for them and their families. I could go on and on, listing the gifts I’ve received, like increased self-esteem, improved spirituality, and actually liking what I see when I look in the mirror.

I know that none of this would have happened for me if it were not for the grace that was given to me on that cold, lonely Christmas.

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