I look at the phone.
I pick it up. I put it down. I pace. I pick it up again.
“Sarah, you need to make the call.” Mr C had said.
Tears trickled down my cheeks.
“I’m not that bad,” I plead, “I don’t need this. I can manage, I am FINE!”
When I grew up in South Africa, if you asked someone how they were feeling and they replied FINE we all knew it meant Fuck-all Interest, No Energy. Fine was not an acceptable response. It was a gloss-over, catch-all term that really said I am not doing well, but I don’t want to burden you with that. Fine meant not fine at all.
Mr C looked at me, hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Make the call. You need this. We need this. We need you to come back to us. Let’s start off in our new home afresh, let you start off in our new home feeling lighter and fresher.”
How little he knew what this process would bring.
I’m lying in bed. I don’t want to move. It is 12pm. I stare at the phone.
I grab my laptop and look one more time at the website. I read the blurb on the programs on offer. I read the testimonials. I watch the few video clips on offer. I try to imagine myself there. Healing.
I cannot breathe.
What if I am unfixable?
I leave the phone next to my bed and move into the lounge. If I can’t see the phone, I don’t have to watch it taunting me.
I ignore the nagging, ignore what I know I inevitably will have to do.
I watch a bit of TV. Still that nagging in my mind.
I think about leaving my family for 3 weeks. I think about how they will cope without me, especially master J.
What if they realise they don’t need me? What if life is better without me and they don’t want me back? What if…
Anxiety grips my throat. How on earth would I cope without them?
This is insanity.
I walk back to the bedroom. I stand over the phone, close my eyes and take a deep breath.
I grab the phone, dial the number and wait for the answer.
A lady answers the phone.
“Hello, my name is Sarah. I’m seeing a counsellor and he suggested I contact you for a possible admission.”
She takes my name and number. As she is speaking, I am trying to analyse the tone of her voice. Is she friendly? She sounds friendly enough. I try to align the tone of her voice in that given moment with the ethos of the entire clinic.
Insanity, I know. Anxiety does this to a person.
She explains to me that the Intake Workers will contact me at 2:15 the following day for my assessment.
Assessment? Why would I need an assessment? I suddenly feel like I am being evaluated, judged. I know I will fail.
2:15 the following day arrives.
Good luck my love. This is the first step of the rest of your life. You will be OKAY. I love you!
Mr C’s text does nothing to alleviate my anxiety.
My phone rings. I answer and try to sound as normal as possible.
A lovely lady speaks to me. She is young, and her voice is soft, full of compassion. At times, as she runs through the endless questions, I am not sure she is fully getting the magnitude of what I am telling her. She sounds so young.
I start to feel like a fraud. So many of the questions didn’t seem to apply to me.
But then the questions that did apply to me came up.
She runs through the standard criteria for depression. I answer YES to all of them.
Then she runs through the standard criteria for anxiety. I answer YES to the majority of them.
She stops. And then she says, “You have done so very well, Sarah, to have remained sober for nearly 7 years, most of which has been without AA, considering all that you are going through, and have been through. It is such a long time to remain sober, to not pick up that drink. I don’t know how you’ve managed it, frankly, but you should be so proud.”
I catch my breath.
I don’t think I have ever allowed myself to feel proud of my sobriety. Ever.
And certainly no one has ever said as much to me in so many words.
Rather, I have seen my drinking and consequent sobriety as a part of life. A matter-of-fact part of life that you just get on with. I have also seen it as a catastrophic failure, a flaw in the fabric of who I am.
“I don’t feel like I have achieved much,” I admit to her, “I’m not doing very well at it.”
Her voice softens. “Take it from me, it’s a big deal.”
We move onto other questions. Her voice remains soft, sometimes apologetic at the sensitive, often extremely personal nature of them.
“Are you suicidal, or have you had any suicidal ideation?”
I nod, “Yes.”
“Have you made any plans today to act on those ideations?” She emphasises the word today, noting the urgency of the question.
“No. I can’t do it to my children, to my husband.” Yet, the emptiness I feel inside, the numbness, is banging on why not!
She informs me that my case will be referred to the multidisciplinary team who will be in touch for my admission. She informs me that there will be a substantial shortfall that my private health will not cover. I gasp. I know I desperately need this, and as afraid as I am of going ahead with it, the idea that money may prevent me from doing it suddenly becomes worse than leaving my family to do it.
I so desperately want to be well.
I fight back the tears and try desperately not to let it show in my voice.
She tells me not to worry, that in certain cases they do scholarships for certain patients (inmates?) to cover most of the shortfall. There is still a gap, but not so great that I would need to take a loan to afford it.
The following day she calls me. The accounts department have agreed to the scholarship, and the multidisciplinary team will be in touch on Monday. This time of year is very busy, she tells me, and there is a bit of a backlog.
Christmas, New Year – the season of extreme excess and the perfect excuse for the alcoholic or drug addict to put aside any form of restraint and embark on carnal abandon. I think of all the families begging their mums or dads not to drink too much, I imagine all the families whose Christmas has been ruined yet again, a slew of annihilation left in the alcoholic’s wake. How many children’s self-esteem has already been shattered these past few weeks? How many adult children of alcoholics are finding it impossible to function? How many alcoholics woke up and thought this cannot continue.
Over the weekend, I cry a lot.
I’m not ready. I don’t need this. I feel like a fraud.
I sit in my counsellor’s office.
“I could be taking a spot that someone else really needs,” I argue.
He gently tells me that I have as much right, and need, to be there as anyone else.
I don’t want to hear this. I want to hear that I am not really as fucked up as I think I am. I want to hear I am okay. I want to hear that this is all a nightmare and I am going to wake up at any moment.
It doesn’t happen.
Instead, I cry. A lot.
I am broken. Convinced I am beyond repair.
I am a hypocrite.
I have for so long advocated for humanity, believing utterly that everyone has a right to happiness, mental wellness and contentment.
Except me, apparently.
Why are we so fucking hard on ourselves?
I keep trying to imagine being away. The Intake Worker told me that there is a no caffeine, no sugar and no nicotine policy. Additionally, there are two 45 minute exercise sessions a day – a walk and yoga. This is a unique program that takes a very whole approach to recovery.
I abhor routine at the moment.
Mr C is excited for me.
“Sarah, you are going to feel so amazing.”
His words fall on deaf ears.
Instead, I accuse him of trying to get rid of me, of wanting to send me away to make his life easier. I accuse him of thinking that I am the problem, that I am the ill that infects our family. I tell him he has no idea what I have been through, what I have endured. It is not my fault, I yell at him.
He hugs me tightly.
“Of course it isn’t your fault,” he soothes. “No-one could endure what you have been through, Sarah, and not be affected. You deserve to have this rest, this time to heal. I will miss you so much, we will miss you, but you need this time.”
I feel so weak. Like an utter failure.
I imagine myself trying to wake up to go for a morning walk. Currently, getting out bed is so difficult for me. My body rebels.
We don’t need this. You can do this on your own. Your family needs you. You have the move, what will people think about you leaving them to swan off for a retreat? It’s pretty selfish don’t you think, leaving everyone like that? What about Master J. Doesn’t he deserve to not have that added stress? You know people are going to judge you, right? You know that they are going to think you are selfish, and you’re not even that bad.
I continue to cry whilst packing boxes.
I find a video about a recovering alcoholic. I watch it.
“Getting clean is only the beginning,” he says, “it is only then that we can start to heal. But getting sober isn’t the end of it. We need to learn to deal with all the family of origin stuff, so we can start growing. I can tell you, I reached my forties, and some are in their fifties, or sixties, and they only started growing up then. We are like teenagers up until we get sober, and then we have to learn to become fully functioning adults.”
His words resonate. I stopped maturing at 15 years of age, when I started drinking. I’ve been sober for nearly 7 years, yet I know I haven’t even begun my journey of reaching full-blown adulthood.
Today is Monday.
I’m waiting for the call to discuss my admission. I’m not sure how this works. I know that they try to admit you as soon as they can.
I am imagining that they are going to deem me not in crisis enough to warrant admission. I am imagining rejection. I am fearful of that. I am also fearful of not being rejected, and then not being able to work past the mental barriers that have dogged me for so long. I am fearful of not being fixable.
All I know is that I want to be well. I want to experience joy and contentment and that life has some meaning.
I no longer want to be in that dark place that tells you the exact opposite. The one that looks at the world with pity and dread and no point. It is such a cold, lonely, dark place to be. It is a place that reminds you constantly of your lack of worth. It is a place that plays reruns of all the instants in your life that reaffirms your worthlessness. It is a place that never reminds you of all the people who do love you, who do value you, who do need you. It only serves to remind you of those people and circumstances that would tear you down.
It is so tiring, so debilitating, so empty.
I no longer want to feel the tendrils of suicide gnawing at my brain, my screams echoing in the empty chambers, with no one to hear them.
I want to see the light.
I am ready to surrender.
And so I wait. And pray.