Ever been in a detox unit? It’s an interesting place. Designed to hold a person during those first physically and mentally hellish days of withdrawal, detox units come in many levels of comfort and care. Effort is made to transition the patient to treatment after discharge, but the main purpose of the unit is to keep us physically safe during early withdrawal. Some drugs, such as alcohol and tranquilizers, leave a person in danger of seizures that can be fatal, and antiseizure meds are required. Others, such as opiates, have a withdrawal process that won’t kill but is likely to make you wish it would.
When I first went to detox in 2009, I learned that I get very emotional during the process. Sometime late in day 2, I went on a crying jag that disrupted the whole ward with its volume and vehemence. I really couldn’t say what emotions were attached to the sobbing; it felt more like a physical phenomenon. Something just grabbed hold of me and shook the tears out until it was done.
On the third day I started singing. Looking back at it, I can see that the upheavals in my brain chemistry must have pushed me into a manic state, but I didn’t understand my bipolar disorder very well at the time. It was midnight, and I couldn’t sleep, so I was sitting in the common room and writing a letter. Suddenly singing just seemed like a good idea, and thus began my days-long stint on detox Broadway. I sang the rest of the night–show tunes, ballads, rock, it didn’t matter. It was just important to keep singing.
The staff probably decided to leave me be, since I wasn’t waking anyone up in that room. Bless them, and let’s give a thought to those who work in places like this. They have to deal with a lot of upset people, see a lot of suffering, and feel a lot of frustration. Because addiction is so hard to beat, they see so much repeat business that it must be hard to be optimistic.
Letting me sing worked during the night, but the next day I began to get gentle reminders that although it was nice that I was feeling better, it really wasn’t appropriate to be belting out “Mexico” during group study. Especially the line about tequila. “One Toke Over the Line” was also considered a poor choice.
It wasn’t just the singing, either. I had no filter whatsoever; I was coming up with “clever” comebacks to everything said around me. At lunchtime, I plunked myself cheerfully into my chair, complained that the atmosphere was too dismal and demanded that my fellow patients tell some jokes. If you’ve ever been through withdrawal, you can imagine how well that went over.
I danced in the hallways between groups. I gave life advice to the student nurses who took our vital signs every few hours. I wrote and mailed long letters whose contents I don’t remember. When my husband visited, I spent an hour giving him an extremely detailed and passionate retelling of a book I had been reading.
You may be thinking that my manic state was pretty obvious to a medical observer, so why weren’t they giving me anything to address it? They were–I was already on a high dose of Depakote when I came in. This was what still came through it. The doctor felt that since this was likely to be temporary, straining my already overloaded liver with a higher dose or a new med wouldn’t be worth it as long as I was acting out in nonviolent ways.
So the poor staff and patients were stuck with me. It’s a somewhat embarrassing memory, since my behavior was so inconsiderate of others. I’m the type of person who is usually on time for classes, doesn’t interrupt, and generally tries not to be a disruption. When I came down–and I did, believe me–I had that “what the hell did I do last night?” feeling.
That being said, I’m also grateful for the memory. For the bit of humor my craziness injected into a time of intense suffering and shame. For a flash of fun before I descended into the gray and heavy depression characteristic of recovery from opiate abuse. Even for the the way it increased my comprehension of my mental illness.
Also, we could do worse than sing when we’re suffering. And it’s a good thing to play, and joke, and dance without worrying whether we look silly. I’d like to do more of that kind of thing without having to be neurologically messed up to get there. It’s that balance thing again.