Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chapter 29 Excerpt

11 - BURR
17 - HULL
26 - KOCUR



He had gone to bed and tried to get some sleep. Both the pillows and the mattress crackled with every movement. They were all encased in heavy plastic. And he began to sweat. For a moment, he slept, then came the nightmare. That one guy in the lounge had called them St. Mary’s Revenge. About them, another patient had asked, ‘You ever hear of paying the piper?’”

- Barry Longyear, Saint Mary Blue

When I began sneaking liquor out of parents’ liquor cabinets in my teens I was naive to the villainous alter ego of alcoholism. I knew only of fun nights and the sweet buzz of intoxication. Because D.A.R.E. had falsely instructed me to regard marijuana as an evil on the same parallel as heroin, crack, and even methamphetamine, I had discarded all information they had indoctrinated us in regarding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, along with any other useful concepts of alcoholism I might have learned in my “Morality” courses in the catholic schoolrooms of Divine Child High with the queer-sounding Father Ed, a balding priest in monk’s robes; I had stopped believing in God, then, and though I aced most of my mandatory religion courses – always the easiest classes in high school – I consciously refused to retain any of the lessons and outdated notions the priests and nuns may have been trying to impress upon me. As such, it was with dumbfounded horror that I started experiencing the otherworldly phenomenon known in recovery circles as “Saint Mary’s Revenge,” the nightmares and hallucinations induced by acute alcohol withdrawal.

That winter I suffered through some of the worst of those godforsaken episodes; they were amplified by long, unpredictable benders usually bookended by three to four weeks of sobriety. The horrors of the most recent withdrawal episode fresh in my mind, I was routinely able to accumulate upwards of two to three weeks sobriety in between benders, sporadically and irregularly attending AA meetings when it was convenient, discussing the recurring relapses frankly with my substance abuse therapist, but always at some point forgetting. Always at some point the burning memory of the latest bender, and the macroscopic horror of my drinking problem cumulatively would diminish, flickering like a cottage candle down to its last layer of wax.

At such junctures my addiction whispered false hopes in my ear, having cunningly bided its time until my resolve inevitably lapsed. It told that I’d never have an ounce of fun again if I never drank, that it’d be downright impossible to find female companionship without the assistance of alcohol, that I was merely a highly functioning alcoholic, and that there was nothing wrong with that, among other lies. It told me that I wanted a drink, that I always would. It somehow made me forget those wretched withdrawals.

However many days a particular relapse might last, and however many days I pushed off the withdrawal with a misguided tapering regiment, I inevitably faced the worst nights of acute withdrawal each time. During the dark mornings and the long daytime hours I endured deep depressive moods punctuated by paranoia and anxiety, constantly trembling hands and painful bowel movements that could only be eased by long, five mile to ten mile walks which I often went on. But it gets the worst at night. At night I shutter and shake involuntarily, I see shadows moving in the streets, in the windows across the street, in the woods. 

The sports broadcasts at night help a little. The smooth, conversational tone of a late night hockey or baseball game from the west coast quiets strange voices in my head, but past midnight, when even the west coasts games are over, the demons awake. During the midnight hours and the early morning hours that succeed it, I experienced some of the darkest terrors that alcohol withdrawal had to offer: the most vivid nightmares, ghastly hallucinations, doomsday premonitions, the lines between them blurred by a nervous system in shock. I woke from short, lucid states of sleep – if I managed to get any at all – from nightmares so real that I clutched my comforter close, half-expecting an apparition or a butcher-wielding madman to materialize at the foot of my bed, the midnight blackness of my basement bedroom shadowy in the blue glow of Sportscenter, kept on all night to ward off dark forces, my clove of garlic.

Deprived of R.E.M. sleep during a bender, the sudden shift to withdrawal makes for some of the worst of what the human brain is capable of. The most impressionable of the nightmares recurred multiple times: that of my personal Judgment Day in Hell. In it, I am traversing as if on a conveyor belt towards the lair of the devil, which is on the opposite end of the big black stadium that surrounds me, the seating decks and luxury boxes burned black and charred amidst drooping globs of red lava. White skeletal figures and shrouded demons harass me like pirates, as if to warn me of the consequences of a vice-driven life, clawing and heckling along the path to Satan’s Judgment. I never quite get to the lair; I usually wake sweating and shaking with withdrawal just before the moment of truth, red-eyed and wet-brained and breathing heavily. Each time I wake with the Catholic guilt of an alcoholic sinner, knowing instinctively that I’m going to Hell for my hard-partying ways, my continued inability to resurrect myself from them. I should have paid more attention in all those religion courses throughout the years, I lamented, and I shouldn’t have been going through the motions all those Friday and Sunday mornings in church; I should have been internalizing Father Bondi’s preachings instead of carrying on with an endless, imaginary college football season in my head. In my desperation, I prayed to the God I knew in those days for the first time in many years. “I’ll do anything,” I told Him. 

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