Drowning In Shallow Water: Chapter 1
RACING TO THE BOTTOM
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I said, narrowly opening my eyes, trying to make sense of what was happening while hanging upside down. It was the morning of May 25, 2020, and I had just gained consciousness after wrecking my car on Bardstown Rd in Louisville, Kentucky. I vaguely remembered that my dog Cruz and I were on our way to meet a friend for a walk. Instead, I found myself suspended in the air by my seatbelt, realizing that everything was upside down and feeling the pressure of blood rushing to my head. Awake and still alive, unfortunately.
“Wait, my dog….” I started to mumble when I looked out, and there he was, tail still as if he was holding his breath waiting for me. Relief.
Then the waves hit my body one after the other. Not pain, but first fear. “What is happening to me?” Next, anger. “I shouldn’t be okay...I don’t want this!” Lastly, shame. “I’m awful. How could I want to die with my dog in the car? What kind of sick person am I? I deserve to die. I’m fucking hopeless.”
I wanted to walk away from the scene to escape the best way I knew how, racing to the bottom of a bottle of cheap bourbon. Still, first things first, these damn first responders weren’t letting me go if it wasn’t in an ambulance. I hadn’t even realized that I lacerated my elbow and had pieces of glass embedded throughout my skin like some sort of glittery decor.
“I don’t want any Goddamn help,” I muttered under my breath as I got into the ambulance. I had to answer the same rote questions I’ve responded to many times in ambulance rides. “Wait, how do you spell your last name?” “D for David, u, e for Edward…” until getting to the hospital.
Though I was furious and incredibly resentful at going to the hospital, there was one positive: Pain pills! My favorite mind-altering drug has always been alcohol, as I never had the “oomph” in me to work as hard as people do to get illicit drugs. However, I certainly wasn’t going to reject a nice prescription, either. I could already feel the euphoria just before blacking out with burning splashes of Evan Williams. I couldn’t wait to escape my misery and get away for a day or two.
“Here’s your prescription for Ibuprofen 800s.”
“Excuse me, IBUPROFEN?!” I felt myself clutching my nonexistent pearls.
“But, I just flipped my car over. I just got out of a terrible wreck.”
“Sorry, you aren’t experiencing enough pain for anything stronger.”
Wow. Immediately I wondered what the fuck someone would have to do to get a pain pill around here; I mean, lose a limb? Welp, there went any slight, “on the bright side,” feeling I was starting to have. My stomach started sinking again. I rolled my eyes and groaned.
Getting home from the hospital, I knew I would have to tell my sister what happened. I had already been hospitalized several times since April 28, when I found my then-boyfriend dead from a drug overdose. Ever since, I was trapped in what felt like a never-ending bender from Hell. In less than a month, I had already gone twice to detox. I had several emergency room visits with dangerously high blood alcohol levels. So to prepare myself for this call, I got a few liquor bottles dropped off thanks to alcohol delivery and opened one of the bottles. No need to pour it in a glass, I drank it like water.
“Jess, you’re dying. You need help. Please, go somewhere. I can’t handle this. Every time the phone rings, I’m terrified,” Sophie cried. I sighed and thought to myself, Damn, I don’t want to be hurting her like this. So I picked up the phone and called a local treatment facility inquiring about their five-week program. Deep down, I was hoping they wouldn’t have a bed open. Deep down, I wanted to just keep drinking and shut down. I was already dreading the feeling of detoxing and withdrawals. The woman on the phone said, “Yes! We can take you. How about we pick you up later today?” I went to clutch my imaginary pearls again.
“TODAY?! but I’m not packed.”
“That’s okay. Someone can drop clothes off for you.”
I tried to deflect. “I can’t come tomorrow?”
“Well, sweetheart, you CAN come tomorrow, but WILL you make it 'til then?” I sighed.
“FINE. But can you come in the evening?”
Rubbing my hands together, I realized I had a few hours so that I could give myself one last hurrah before I went into this place. I couldn’t imagine five weeks without drinking. I dreaded the idea of having to feel everything, of only being unconscious to sleep. So I swallowed hard, I drank fast. I threw the Ibuprofen 800s in the trash. I vaguely remember a friend coming to get Cruz, and then everything went dark and silent. I couldn’t feel a thing. Things were exactly how I wanted them to be always and forever.
I came-to on a couch in an unfamiliar space. I looked around. There were people watching TV, others were playing games at a table, someone was writing in a notebook while reading out of what appeared to be a Bible. I could tell I needed a drink; my head was starting to throb, my hands were beginning to shake. I looked down. As I examined the dried blood on my clothes, I suddenly felt like my elbow was being stabbed. There were some rough stitches in there. The thick, black surgical thread stuck out of my elbow like a porcupine’s needles. I got up only to feel the room start spinning, and a woman, to this day I don’t remember who it was, grabbed my good arm and walked me to a room. She pointed me to a plainly dressed bed. Immediately I got in. Back to black. Relief.
I finally woke up with a clearer head in that same bed and walked out of the room. It looked like I was in a college dorm setup of some kind. I saw people sitting in a courtyard, cigarettes and vape pens in hand surrounded by a cloud of smoke to the left of me. In front of me, standing at the desk, a young woman looked at me and smiled, “Hi Jessica! How are you, love? I’m Danielle.” Danielle was a tech, so she was introducing herself to let me know that she, alongside the other techs, supervised the area to make sure that all was in order. She was also a few years in recovery from all kinds of drugs, and she just glowed.
As she walked me around the facility to give me a sense of where I was, she ran down basic things like the schedule, rules, and our responsibilities. Yes, we as the patients, had chores. Some people eagerly waved “hello” as we passed them. Others looked like they had just gotten there, too, and moved about like zombies.
"You know, my boyfriend died two years ago from a drug overdose, too.” I was immediately caught off guard. First, I wondered how she knew, then second, I felt a surge of relief. It had basically been a month since Ian died, and I had yet to hear that there was another soul on this earth who also had a boyfriend who died from a drug overdose. She sat me down and shared her story with me. There was so much I related to. I had to ask, “But, how did you live through it? How are you still here?”
In my mind, I thought this life experience was supposed to come with some sort of death sentence. That I would just bide my time until I killed myself or died of alcohol poisoning. But Danielle, here she was, joyful, glowing, and with some solid continuous sober time under her belt and proving me wrong.
“Oh, trust me, it was the worst experience of my life to date, and my heart is still broken. Eventually, you start to find your way in this world with grief. I promise you it gets better. I’m a testament to that.”
Immediately I felt a tiny shift in me, a butterfly in my stomach. Maybe it does, in fact, get better. I mean, if Danielle did it, perhaps I can, too. She gave me a hug, which also surprised me, and went off to finish her shift. Before leaving for the day, Danielle came back to find me and handed me a sheet she pulled from the tech desk printer. The paper read:
People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.
A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.
A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
I knew then that although it was going to be a long five weeks, that maybe this was exactly what I needed.