“You’ll never be able to quit doing drugs. No matter how smart you think you are, the drugs will always have an IQ ten points higher.”
That’s what Dr. X told me Monday morning, the fourth day of my first hospitalization.
I was dying to get out. I had already missed classes and a deadline on a project for work. I couldn’t tell the firm the real reason I was late on the assignment– what was I supposed to say? “Sorry I missed the deadline, I was in the crazy house over the weekend.” Not an option.
I had to get out. And to get out, I had to convince Dr. X to sign off on my sanity. The hospital didn’t release people on the weekends, so my Monday morning consultation with my treating psychiatrist, Dr. X, was my first opportunity to plead my case.
I was going to have to clear a high hurdle to get myself out. I knew that Dr. X didn’t like me and that he thought I had a substance abuse problem. And I knew that it would be a tough sell to convince him otherwise.
I spent Sunday night wrestling with overwhelming anxiety and planning my speech. I knew what I had to say to get out; I just didn’t know if Dr. X would believe me. I had been playing the game: smiling at the nurses, interacting with the other patients, taking my meds without complaint, and– most of all– pretending that nothing was wrong. Nevermind the fact that the overwhelming depression that had brought me to the hospital in the first place had not subsided but had, in fact, intensified. On top of that, I had developed an anxiety that spread throughout my body with reckless abandon and grew stronger as my appointment with Dr. X drew nearer. By Sunday night sleep was nearly impossible. I had no appetite but I forced myself to choke down some breakfast on Monday morning to avoid attracting the attention of the nurses.
My speech was ready. I would tell Dr. X that I had seen the error of my ways, that I would stop using, that my depression was gone, and, above all, that I was fit for release. I was prepared to plead my case, armed with the argument that keeping me locked up would cause my studies to suffer, which would compound any emotional distress I may be dealing with. I knew that I would have to explain myself calmly, hiding the unbearable desperation lurking just below the surface of the artificial calm I would have to create to trick Dr. X into thinking that I was sane.
While I waited for my name to be called, I silently agonized and tried not to think about what would happen if Dr. X said no. If things took a turn for the worse, I was prepared to threaten to check myself out– court order be damned. I knew that there was a very real risk that Dr. X would file for a 72 hour involuntary commitment if I checked myself out without his blessing. So I waited in incredible discomfort as the minutes crawled by.
Finally he called me into the little room with no windows. I was greeted with the usual condescension and grim severity that animated Dr. X’s humorless disposition. I returned his greeting with a bright smile and a freshly washed face. He listened quietly as I performed my speech and made my appeal.
But as I finished my monologue I realized that it wasn’t enough– he wasn’t convinced. He knew I was just saying what he wanted to hear and he voiced this to me in his usual grave and condescending voice. He asked me why he should believe me. And then he told me I would never be able to quit doing drugs.
This made me mad. I was shocked– although I should have known better– that he would express such a deep lack of faith in me. He explained his concern that I would go back to using as soon as I walked out of the door and listed off the drugs he thought I was using: marijuana, DXM, xanax, ecstasy, molly, vicodin, and heroin. Heroin. Even though the rest of the list was right, I was horrified. I quickly objected with self righteous indignation and explained that I had never– NEVER– used heroin.
He quickly backtracked and said that I was using morphine, reasoning that the two were the same. I firmly protested– shooting up heroin and popping oral morphine are not the same, not by any stretch of my imagination. I renewed my appeal, whining– but without tears– that I was missing school and that I was ready to get clean. I relayed the story of my friends’ visit and explained that it had been a turning point in my decision to get sober.
By the grace of God, eventually he gave in. But he wanted reassurances that I wouldn’t go back to my old, evil ways. I quickly offered up a release of information, allowing him to talk to my therapist– who I always tried to tell the truth to– to monitor my behavior. It was a big concession. I didn’t want him to be involved in my life on any level whatsoever. But I knew I had to offer him something if I wanted to walk out of that door. And that was enough. He reluctantly agreed to let me go.
Relief is not a strong enough word to express how I felt when he said that he would approve me for discharge. There may be words to describe how I felt but– if there are– they are beyond my descriptive capacities.
I was free.
I was victorious.
And I was ready to change.
I walked out of that hospital into a bright, brisk October morning and swore that I would never go back. I was wrong– and that part comes later. But on that morning in October I thought I had reached my happy ending. I thought the story was over. And I thought I had seen the last of the hospital.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. My story was far from over.