APRIL 13, 2020 BY ARCH KENNEDY
I’m a recovering alcoholic. There, I said it. I actually admitted that long ago in my first AA meeting and it has been a long journey since that day. I’ve spent 6 visits in detox hospitals and 3 visits in long term rehab. At this point, I should be an expert in the field of addiction!
We are reading a lot of stories today as we sit in our homes quarantined from the rest of the world, but one story that does not get talked about much is addicts who are in isolation now. Let me tell you, isolation is the WORST thing for an addict. Addiction is a disease of the mind and when one is alone, it allows the mind to run wild. Not a good thing. Because you see, relapse starts with the “thought” of picking up again. I can tell you that at least for me, I planned my relapses sometimes days before I actually picked up the drink again. Now, combine that with the pandemic and it compounds the problem making relapse a lot more probable for many and I have already witnessed it with one good friend in AA.
For his confidentiality, I will just call this friend, Sam. Sam relapsed a few weeks ago and I knew he was drinking again because we have always been honest with each other. We had fought in the past because he would call me when drinking wanting to just chat and I finally had to tell him I will not talk to him unless he is calling me for help to stop.
So, I got one of the most pitiful calls yet from Sam yesterday. He needed to go into detox again. He was drunker than I had ever seen before. My partner and I arrived at his apartment to take him to the detox hospital. It took a LONG time to get him out the door. Finally helping him into my car he fell on the ground almost busting his head wide open. Thank God he didn’t. My partner had to help me get him into the car and it was like lifting dead weight. Not an easy task. I could not have done this alone. We get to the detox facility and Sam is too drunk to be admitted. His alcohol level was too high. He needed to be transported to a regular hospital first to be stabilized. He was not happy and raised a big scene. Something mental hospitals see plenty of on a daily basis.
I have two messages. The first one is to those in the field of rehabilitation and addiction. You guys need to get some bedside manner and you need to do it now. One of the workers at this facility told us Sam needs to get out. He is too drunk and he did not say it nicely. First of all, in this business of mental health and detox of addicts, workers see people like my friend Sam every day. These workers need more compassion. I was fuming and I let him have it and told him what I thought about how he handled my friend. Personally I think many in the medical field need to take a course on bedside manner and how to treat the sick. It was bad enough what Sam was going through and having to go to the emergency room twice myself for blood alcohol too high to be admitted into detox, I know why he could not go into detox just yet.
We exited the facility where we proceeded to call 911 to take Sam to the regular hospital so they could get his alcohol level down safely enough to be readmitted back into detox. The “first” ambulance got there and he wouldn’t go. Sam said he wanted to go home. I told him, ok that’s fine, Sam, but you will probably die if you do, so you have to make a decision. It’s the hospital or home where you will probably die. We called 911 a “second” time. This time it was followed by 3 police cars and they gave him the ultimatum of jail or hospital. He chose the hospital, thank God!
As my partner and I were driving home, I thought to myself, this has been one of the 3 most traumatic experiences of my life. Not fun! But I felt we were a success at least because he left in an ambulance rather than a police car.
For those who have not been exposed to addiction, withdrawal from any drug is a VERY unpleasant experience. In fact, alcohol and benzodiazepines are two drugs that you can actually die from withdrawal without medication. Death without medication usually occurs as a heart attack or stroke.
My second message is to everyone else. This isolation is hard on all of us, but it is especially bad for us addicts. Let’s not forget about addicts during our time in quarantine. If you know one, please give them a call and check on them daily even if just a few minutes. That call may actually save their life. Addiction has been defined as a disease by the American Medical Association so try not to be so hard on perhaps a loved one who suffers from it. It can be tough, I know. Families get sick and tired of the drama that is caused by a loved one’s addiction. Sometimes separation is needed and I understand that.
Stay safe and be well. We will get through this pandemic “together”.