Baby Sobriety: My First Year Sober

By Paul Hasegawa Overacker 04/19/17

On the way to rehab my mind is a magma belch; screaming no no no don’t make me I’ll quit I’ll be good don’t take the Bordeaux don’t take my Klonopins help help... gulp.

Group of people in rehab
We were Cuckoo’s Nest.

I woke up in the hospital with a circle of strange faces over my head and snapping fingers in my face. “Paul, wake up. Do you know where you are?”

“Uhhh…” I croaked. I was on a gurney in the ICU of the local hospital, and the ring of faces was emergency room personnel. Apparently I’d been too liberal in self-medicating the night before, and had aspirated shortly after overdosing on a vodka, benzos and morphine cocktail. My throat was horribly raw and I could barely inhale. Who ran over my chest? I couldn’t move and didn’t want to. Fuuuck, hurtin’ dude. I would be in the ICU four days.

I remember just enough to know I was in a world of pain, embarrassment, and trouble. Again. Only days before, my 87-year-old mother had just passed away in the arms of my sister and me. One night, there I was, minding my own business, just having a little solo party time after 18 months of being a full-time caregiver to my (incontinent) parents—some of the most insane work ever—and I fucking OD as soon as it’s over. How stupid is that? Omg, how much is this going to cost? I don’t have insurance and I don’t have a lot of dough. I swear off drinking again. Actually, I swear off drinking while on benzodiazepines, and fuck morphine. I reminded myself: do not inhale my own vomit again, that’s so bad, because my lungs felt like broken glass. I have pneumonia. I could die. Wait. Did I?

After two days I could have visitors: my sister (who found me conked out; it would take months before I could admit that salient truth) and two BFF’s from the olden days growing up in California. My best buds Al and David were here to pick me up from the dead and give me the upshot of my life status. Hospital visitor pleasantries ensued, and then they shut the room door, and I heard, “What are your plans when you get out of the hospital?”

And before I could answer, my sister said, “We think you should go to a rehab facility.”

“Okay,” was all I could gurgle.

Really. I was so sick, weak, and demoralized by my own stupid shit I gave up the "whatever" I could call a life. I hadn’t worked in over two years except for the live-in caregiving to my parents.

“We think you should go as soon as you’re released from the hospital.”

“Now wait a minute, I have a lot to do. I just can’t go from here and…”

I looked at them all, and they looked at me, and it didn’t look good.

I folded. My head spun out. I can’t go, but say you’ll go then don’t go. I had deals to get started on because I needed to make a living again. How could I do that in rehab? I mean, really. California just means disaster for me. Separate the drugs from the booze, that’s the key. I have to get back home to the East Coast.

I didn’t really have a problem with booze, not like some people. Maybe I had a little problem. People are the biggest pains in life.

While I was scheming my escape, my captors found a place that would take me after I had a phone interview where I more or less confessed my desire for help—how the hell did that happen? It was a place we could afford; my hopes for a Malibu rehab were scotched ($$$$$) so that sucked. My lawyer advised a treatment center in the Santa Cruz Mountains and they admitted me within a few days of my release from hospital. The admission lady asked for insurance. What insurance? Thirteen thousand dollars in cash money my sister gave them. Oy. Then again, hmm, I was stoked because Santa Cruz is where I got my surf addiction as a teenager. Maybe I could take a board. The interventionists had gone through my house and threw out all the booze and pharmaceuticals and I stayed clean, detoxing (not by choice) and sick with pneumonia when I got to rehab. Deep inside of me I knew I was a sick man, but not broken. Feeling kind of real sick, yo. I will not beg! I’m on my knees!

Help, help, help… Okay I give up, I’ll go.

How bad could it be? The thoughts about rehab in my head banked from Hieronymus Bosch to Buchenwald to Steamer Lane, as we blasted up through the brittle dry woods of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Moving too fast for my taste. I’m going to check-in and I really do not want to go. I zombie out in the passenger seat, and Al is chatting at me and jockeying for position on the intestinal Highway 17 of death. My mind is a magma belch; screaming no no no don’t make me I’ll quit I’ll be good don’t take the Bordeaux don’t take my Klonopins help help…gulp. I’m not a drunk. It was an accident. Granted, it was stupid, a misdiagnosis of my own symptoms and the self-medication, surely that is understandable.

The interior overdose refrain would go on for months because suicide, one of my all-time go-to escape plans, was not what I was thinking when I accidentally killed myself.

I was in treatment for 30 days to the hour. The treatment camp was a ramshackle necklace of woodsy bungalows nestled in a grove of beat-up redwoods. For the first few days I was under a cloud of suspicion from the other patients because I didn’t spend a night in detox. Most shiver and shake it out in detox. Not me. I was cloudy as shit but acting as normal as possible, except for the phlegm rattle in my chest. What the fuck did I know? I just went where they told me to go and did what they told me to do. I'm going to get my money's worth! I was clean-cut and cool, like some greybeard surfer dude. Those pukes didn’t like me. I have attitude, and I’m friendly. The biggest and hairiest monstrosity, a biker named Dawg, is festooned with prison tattoos and convinced that I was a narc or the owner of the facility. He towered over me, crazy fuck eyes bugged out, but he didn’t stomp me. A few days later we were buds, and a few days after that he had a seizure, and six paramedics carted him off and he ended up in Napa or a more secure cozy joint. The upshot was: I was on the down-low. I wanted to check it out, see who I was dealing with. I thought they were problematic, or lunatics, but many were like me. We needed a new way to live.

There were 50 patients from 18 to 68, female, male and mostly white. It was like a high school where everyone—including the principal, the dean, the teachers, coaches, psychologists, cooks, and cheerleaders—were recovered addicts or alcoholics. I figure most people who watch TV get rehab as a concept. Mark Maron has a stellar career thanks to his treatment center comedy. Rehab is sobriety indoctrination, education in psychology and medicine, if it’s to be effective. All day 24/7. We also had movie nights, softball games, a pool and a gym. We were Cuckoo’s Nest: some escaped or got kicked out, had seizures, had sex, got kicked out, used, drank bad shit then got kicked out. Whatever. Whatever can be imagined probably happened. I was sober, and learning to cope with people I wouldn’t think of knowing. I thought that my last ex-girlfriend should be in there too. And they only served half-caffeinated coffee during the day, period. Crap coffee gets one ready for AA meetings.

Absolute best thing I learned to do: SLEEP.

I began to identify more with the drunks, so maybe I was an alcoholic. After two weeks, I knew. (Months later I would have my doubts.) I called my sister and we fought over whether or not I was DOA. She saved my life that chance morning—tangled in my bed sheets, bluish, indiscernible breath. I felt defensive, and my asshole ego downplayed my sister’s role. I was enraged and she was screaming, “I saved your life you schmuck and you yell at me?” There was wailing and hang-ups, pay phone quarters flying around the yard. Scratch my happy face surface, and misery bled out. She saved my life, along with the ER too, and I was not all that thrilled.

I got better, even after I was bullied for nude sunbathing, and fired from the bell ringer job I was elected to for not ringing the bell enough. I think rehab worked for me because I needed to stop my free fall into the abyss. Life in rehab is just that, rehabilitation of the body, and for me, life itself. I began to love all these camp fuck-ups, because we shared a common enemy, our addictions, some clearing heads open to a better day with the AA formula that works for so many. Why not me? My two best buds, Brian and Gordan, smart guys at 50 and 27, both got out and went down the same path as before—drunk plus whatever hell they prefer. The fact is recovery is hard, and my rehab gave us the training and tools to survive, but I use mine every fucking day and it’s a thing of beauty.

That was 12 months ago and I’m still clean and sober. I’ve never been really sober since I was 13 years old, and before then I liked to spin around and get dizzy. I’m wired for HIGH. I had another life, and it washed into the drain of the ICU. We all need love, some of us seem to need a fire-breathing earth love that feeds our addiction until we burn white hot. With luck we'll come out of it in the calm water, clear blue and alive, cleansed of self-loathing and into the arms of the Mother. I’m sober today, and I don’t know if it’ll hold, God only knows, because I’ve fallen in love.

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