“Anna! Finally! How are you, girl?” Beethoven boomed as I walked into the reception at the rehab.
“Great, really happy to be here.”
The guy who I suppose is now my mentor – let’s call him Rio – came through with a clipboard and a big smile, shook my hand and without asking reached to my shoulder and took my handbag. For a moment I thought perhaps there’d been a mix-up and they were accidentally signing me in as a patient. Turns out this is a place where you jump in and get on with it. No chit-chat here and a hot second later I’m counting and carefully logging pills of a wide variety. This is a good thing, because I’m better that way – if I’m given any space whatsoever to hesitate, I melt into a pathetic little puddle. Big girl pants a good choice here.
Rio is an AA fanatic and any time I’ve been to see them he’s asked if I’m attending meetings. I’m not. When I have told him so he makes noises indicating impending doom but I’m not going to pretend I’m 12-stepping in an enthusiastic Fred Astaire manner when my path is actually more of a pick’n’mix and discreetly just bobbing my head to the beat. Never liked the dance floor, me. Drunk OR sober. Rio does seem to concede that we’re all different and thankfully it would appear that my CV doesn’t need to contain a detailed moral inventory a la Step 4.
Of course I can’t – nor do I want to – give any detailed account for what happened on this first foray into the world of addiction treatment except to say THIS WON’T BE EASY. If I had some naive dream that I was going to walk in, throw smiles around me and heal all the pain in the world, I’m certainly back on earth now with a loud thud. And I discovered something. Hardly news even to me that alcohol reduced me to a lazy bugger who always takes the easy route – hell, being in active addiction it’s the only way you can possibly cope – but as I was driving home I realised someone was knocking furiously on the door: the old Anna. Over the course of the day I often felt really overwhelmed, finding myself in several situations where I felt vulnerable and, quite frankly, really uncomfortable. OK, hand on heart, even a bit scared – being cornered by an angry man demanding I get him the stronger pills as the Librium gives him hallucinations was pretty intimidating. He stood too close and stared me down, holding eye contact in a way that was really threatening. Rio was, of course, nearby and quickly stepped in, calmly defusing the situation but even the air felt spiky. For a fleeting moment I felt I would prefer filing and making calendar entries, consciously thinking this is too hard. Too much to learn, too much to deal with. On the drive home, old Anna kept knocking on the door and eventually I opened.
It’s been a long time. A very, very long time. I’d forgotten what this feels like. For so many years I’ve operated in a thick fog and had got to a point where I’d accepted this silly notion that I CAN’T DO BIG THINGS. Well kick me in the crotch and spit on my neck – it’s a lie! I can and I will. This is daunting as fuck. If I keep on studying and learning and working in this field I’ll easily get to 90 years of age and STILL not get it all. It’s one of those, whaddaya call’em, oh, challenges! Yeah, you know those really difficult situations and obstacles you used to love and absolutely thrive on tackling. Come on, girl! Let’s shake some life into this little brain because I’m totally capable and although I may be a bit soft I’m also tough as nails. This will feed my mind, stretch me to my limit and probably beyond too. I’ve missed this. What’s the point of cleaning all the windows if I’m going to live with the blinds shut? As SatNav took me back a different route and I found myself panicking a little at being in a town centre I don’t know with lots of lanes and several roundabouts plus my beaten up little car giving worrying coughing fits, I shook my head and smiled. I’ve got this. I’m as good as anyone else and I can be really good at this. ……but it’ll require hard work and effort, LOTS OF IT. OK? OK, good. Let’s roll.
I suppose what my first day really underlined, and especially so during the intake process of a patient who was hostile and obnoxious to everyone but whom I instantly became very fond of – think Patsy Stone and you’re not far off the mark – is how addiction is not just a terrifying and baffling beast, but a very democratic one too. It doesn’t give a shit about titles. This will be tough. I have no doubt I’ll be sobbing in the toilets. But I also know that this is what I need to do.
Today I’m not going to drink.