Tonight, I’m beginning a new hospital volunteer gig as co-facilitator of a meeting at a detox unit once a month. I’ve been a patient on the unit (twice) and I’m glad of be of a little help, but I’m sure going up there will bring back memories. I’ve been on the hospital campus many times for meetings and events, but the detox is a secure area and you need a reason to be there.
Recovery types talk about carrying the message to the addict who still suffers. Some people also point out “We don’t just carry the message, we ARE the message.” Meaning that our existence, our beating hearts, our feet walking the earth free for one more day, are a testimonial as powerful as anything that comes out of our mouths.
I am the message when I go to a place like this, whether I feel “up to” being it or not. At times like this, when I’ve been struggling with my symptoms and with compulsive behavior, I feel self-conscious about any hint of holding myself up as an example of recovery. But, no matter how humble I am feeling, my physical presence in that room makes me part of the message. My face, the way I carry myself, my tone of voice…in a place like this, many people are feeling too sick or drugged to care yet, but there are some who want to know whether there might be hope this time.
No matter how messed up I am, I do have hope to offer the person who is convinced life without their drugs of choice is either impossible or unbearable. That hope is transmitted by the space of time and experience between tonight and when the patient trying to stay awake and calm through the nightly meeting was me.
Because it was, and I must not forget that, no matter how frustrated or depressed I become. I sat in the chair where the nurses took our vital signs every four hours. I lined up at the window to get medications. I ate from plastic trays brought up to the unit, until I was strong enough to go down to the cafeteria with the more senior patients. Then I climbed the two short flights of stairs back up to the unit one step at a time, gripping the handrail tightly–and still had to stop and rest, dizzy and weak.
In the lounge, I attempted games of cards with fellow patients, only to strew the cards over the table and floor with an ill-timed twitch of my shaking hands. I haunted the nurses’ station at night, unable to sleep but not wanting to be alone. I talked with my daughter on the phone, hearing about her math test–and breaking, inside, when I heard that she wouldn’t let anyone but me read her Harry Potter at night.
I will never stop being grateful to the people who work at this place, and others like it. Their job is often thankless, to say the least, and the repeat business they get has to be depressing. But, unlike many, they try to treat the patients with respect and a matter-of-fact attitude. They don’t project an aura of “you deserve your suffering,” but they don’t give in to manipulation either. The most experienced and wise ones can best be described as a force of nature; an attitude of “it is what it is.”
Yes, I am grateful. But I never want to go back. I may need to go to psych treatment again at some points in my life, but detox is different because I have the ability to make a choice that will keep me from being a patient here. Recovery gives me that choice, and I’m the message when I display evidence of having made that choice today.
I’m looking forward to climbing briskly up those steps and walking through those doors, wearing jeans and a denim jacket (so different from hospital gowns or the loose clothing of the first days.) Nobody will take my blood pressure or inquire after my bodily functions, and when the meeting is over I’ll go home. That’s the message; that’s what I am. A screwed-up human in recovery, who can visit a detox ward and not need to stay.