When I woke up that first morning, I had only slept for about two hours. It was about 11:30 in the morning and I was supposed to have been at work three hours earlier, but about half an hour before I was supposed to leave, I stumbled out of a cab in front of my house, shoved a fifty in the driver’s hand without asking for change and crawled under a pile of laundry on top of the futon in my bedroom. When I woke up fifteen minutes before departure time, I was trembling and cold and I went to the bathroom to throw up. I saw what I was fairly certain was blood mixing in with my vomit and had a drunken meltdown. A recent hospitalization had made me very concerned about my health and I was certain this was something that needed attending to. I called in sick to work in kind of a panic and then a hospital that promptly put me on hold. I fell asleep again while on hold and when I woke up, I realized that I had just ruined my life.
At the time, I was living at West Side, in a loft-style room that didn’t really have walls so much as drywall partitions that stopped about two feet short of the ceiling. When I woke up and realized my mistake, my roommate had already been awake for some time, high as balls, and probably was well-aware of everything.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I fucked up.”
“What do you mean you fucked up?”
“I mean I fucked up.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
There was a long silence on the other side of the wall that, while I may be over-defensive here, I knew pretty instinctively was a judgmental kind of silence. I took this time to try to collect all of my thoughts and formulate a plan.
“Hey,” I called over the wall again. “What do you think you guys would do if I left?”
For those of you who don’t know, the West Side refers to a collective that I had founded along with three of my then-friends based out of our illegal storefront apartment. As a member, I was responsible for a number of things, most important of which was a third of the rent.
“Well, we’d probably be fucked,” she said carefully. “We would have to find someone to replace you and I don’t know anyone that we could find to do that. Is that something you’re thinking about doing?”
I explained to her what I had just done and what I was fairly certain was about to happen. The night before, I had gone to see some old friends at a show uptown and had spent literally the entire night up until 8:30 that morning drinking and cruising around town listening to Interpol with a 40-year-old poet/tax man. I knew that I couldn’t go to work drunk and had called in sick with a voice that almost certainly revealed me to be inebriated. This was a violation of personal ethics, as I have literally never called off work or cancelled an appointment due to a hangover before. What was worse, though, is that I knew the woman who was managing that day very very well and she knew me very very well and I was about 90% certain that day that I had lost my job. To make matters worse, none of it had been all that fun. I was just drinking. I was bored and it was painful to be both sober and alive at the same time. I realized that what I needed to do was go home to my mother, check myself into our residential treatment program on the reservation and just dry the fuck out for a month until I could get myself straightened out. As soon as this plan came out of my mouth, though, the prospect of being sober for the rest of my life rushed over me and every terrible thing that could happen suddenly became an unavoidable reality. I imagined myself losing all of my friends, my job, my writing which was the most important thing in the world to me, and more importantly, the only avenue I had to painlessly experience life without having to allot like 60% of my efforts toward not killing myself.
My roommate told me that I needed to calm the fuck down. She said I was losing my grip and that she was sure it wasn’t as bad as that, that I had just fucked up and now I needed to buck up and come up with a plan of action. Then she grabbed her coat and left to buy more weed.
As I lay there, awake but catatonic, thinking about how I would have to say goodbye to everything in my life as I knew it, weird things started happening. I’ve always been a bit trembly, especially after I drink, but I was so cold and shaking so badly, my futon shook also. My teeth chattered. I kept trying to throw up but nothing was coming out. My heart rate was slow. I was disoriented even if I had now probably cycled through the alcohol. I looked this stuff up online and it said that what I was most likely experiencing was the beginning stages of alcohol withdrawal.
I called an old friend of mine who had had the worst drinking problem I’d ever seen and he confirmed what I’d read.
“You have to detox under medical care,” he said. “I know how you drink and if you don’t, you could die. When I detoxed, they couldn’t keep me at the regular center and sent me to a hospital because they thought I was going to have seizures.”
Even with my thought process so shattered and the worst cold sweats I’ve ever experienced, I thought he was just trying to scare me into in-patient. I tried eating something but the first bite of bread caused this terrible surging pain and I threw it away. I tried drinking water but the second it hit my stomach, I threw it right back up again, untouched.
It was dead June in Chicago and hotter than fuck already when I stepped outside. I had googled cheap walk-in clinics in the area and found one a few blocks from the gallery and started walking there. I text-messaged my parents and my business partners on the way there about what I was doing and they were unanimously bewildered. “Wait, what? You’re not an alcoholic… Are you?” At the clinic, I sat there, trembling and pale and sweating and wanted to die of embarrassment as children gazed at me sympathetically and their parents tried hard to distract them. My bloodshot eyes, grey skin, grey lips, and dirty, smoke-smelling ambiance apparently did nothing to diminish the fact that for some reason, children naturally just like me.
When I got in to see the doctor, he seemed pissed off walking in. It was kind of a busy day and things were probably not going well and I’m sure I was the last thing he wanted to see: a 22 year old kid, not pregnant, not diabetic, and probably therefore a waste of time. When he shut the door and sat down across from me and got a look at my face, his entire demeanor changed. I told him what I was doing there and what my concerns were. I gave him a list of my symptoms, things that were different and new, things that always happened. I gave him a no-bullshit list of just how much I had consumed in the last sixteen hours, how much I had consumed in the last week, the last month, the last five or six years. He stared at me as if I was telling him that I had just fucked a unicorn.
“And you’re how old?” He asked.
“Jesus…” he said. “You know you don’t really start developing as a person until you’re about college-age.”
“Your brain is still kind of forming but this is when you’re just starting to become an adult.”
“Drinking 3-4 times a week, as much as you drink, sometimes everyday…” he was repeating exactly what I had told him and had to keep looking at his chart, where he had written it down, to confirm with himself that he was reading it correctly. “That basically means that… Well, you’ve never really… been yourself, have you? You’ve never really spent any time with yourself. Gotten to know yourself.”
I laughed. “I feel like that’s kind of the point, doctor.”
“It’s kind of a shame,” the doctor said. “I mean a lot of a shame. No offense, you seem like a very intelligent young lady. You’re very well-spoken. Even in the shape you’re in, you carry yourself pretty impressively.”
“But to… well, destroy yourself like this.”
He took my vital signs again in more detail and checked a few things to see if I was in any immediate danger, which I apparently was not. He wrote a few things down on a notepad.
“This is the address of a hospital not far from here with full chemical dependency treatment. It’s a wonderful facility, everyone is very nice there. They’ll be able to keep an eye on you for a few days while you kind of get this stuff out of your system. I think you’ll be okay to get there on your own but I can’t tell you for certain how bad your detox is going to be so I want you to go there right now. I’ll place a call as soon as you leave so that they know you’re on your way. I think this is going to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Really. I think you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel once you’re on your own two feet again.”
I thanked him and left, went across the street to get a sandwich but as soon as I had eaten half of it, I had to go around back and throw it all back up again. I went home and made some tea and called my friends to talk about it. By then the shaking had subsided to just a small tremble, my thinking had started to clear and I was able to breathe normally, without forcing myself to. I swept all of the laundry off of my bed and laid down under a pile of blankets, turning off all the lights even though it was only like 2 in the afternoon, thankful to have the whole place quiet and to myself for once. In bed, things had started to seem a little more familiar and I was able to put a lot of things out of my mind, though not all of it. I kept thinking about what the doctor had said, about how I’ve never really known myself because of how much time I’ve spent in my formative years inebriated to the point of self-alienation. I thought about all of my friends. I told myself that if they really loved me, none of this would be a big deal. I would still be me, just a healthier me. I fell asleep for a few hours and when I woke up, the house was still empty and I felt better though still kind of empty, the way you do when you’ve had a dream that you can’t quite remember but you feel like the basic point of which was that everything that mattered to you was gone, and I made my decision not to go to the hospital, but in fact to leave my home behind and find a place to die alone in New Orleans, Louisiana.