I’m staring at not one but two broken windows that have been covered up quite shabbily by wooden boards. On each wooden board is an identical color printout of a bright, cartoonish pastoral scene that is clearly meant to evoke warm and fuzzy emotions; feelings of tranquility and ease. However, it is having the complete opposite affect on me, it’s making my skin crawl as though spiders are all over it. And the question vexes me: Who thought it would be a good idea to cover anything in those condescending pastels in part of a psych ward? This image is seared into the back of my eyelids.
This is my second stay in a hospital psychiatric ward. I make sure to get my card punched again (“the fifth stay is free!”). The place feels like the Ritz-Carlton compared to the last one. Of course, things aren’t like last time. No, this time I knew I would kill myself if I was left alone. Somehow I made it into therapy and vomited up all my emotions. I went in voluntarily. I do give myself some real credit for that.
There’s part of my brain that gets activated when I use drugs and/or alcohol that instantly goes to the darkest place possible, an emotional blackhole, and everything good in my life collapses: I feel completely isolated from my good friends because I isolate myself from my good friends; I become indignant, irrational, and blame anyone but myself for every single stupid problem that isn’t even a real fucking problem to begin with. I turn on the television to cover my manic sobbing attacks that have started coming every fifteen minutes. And then I hear the same thought on a thunderous loop inside my brain for hours on end: “I am a bad person.”
I just realized I never gave you a proper introduction. My name is Sam, I’m an alcoholic and drug addict that was in recovery but slipped and is trying to get sober again. I love blueberry pancakes and can’t stand people that hold their phones on their hands like a Pop-Tart.
In the ward I knew the routine ahead of time. Everything is scheduled: meal times, blood pressure checkups, “structured classes”… no locks, no shoelaces, no privacy, no phone.
The first time it truly felt like a weird hybrid of hospital and prison, because I was there against my own will and had no idea when I would leave. Time stretches forever there, like how watching two minutes of “Big Bang Theory” feels like three years of your life have forever been stolen from you. It’s a little like a casino in that everyone there is sad for extremely different reasons.
I’ve found the best way to pass time is to journal and read books. They always have a “library” consisting of two rows of young adult sci-fi and adult coloring books that previous occupants were nice enough to do all of long before I arrived. But if friends can bring you in some of their favorites, it’s an extemely calming way to pass the hours.
By day two of this visit I had detoxed enough to clear my head and remember all the great people and things in my life. Ideas for plans, fantasizing about suicide, all of that had dissipated. It makes me so happy and so furious at the same time. Clearly, when I’m sober, my depression is manageable with a semi-strict weekly routine consisting of therapy, daily doses of Effexor, Remeron, and Klonopin, daily self-care, mindfulness techniques, and working a program specifically for addicts.
There’s so much shame that I constantly feel again and right now for using but I’m trying to learn not to blame myself WHILE taking ownership of my actions. I’m aware of the contradiction, please and thank you.
Addiction feels like you’re watching yourself drown while you drown. So often you can’t move. You are at the mercy of a force of nature inside you. Addiction knows exactly what to say to you. It casually tells you or it whispers in your ear while twisting you with a knife. It is always there for someone like me. Waiting. I feel like such a small percentage of the population treat addiction OR mental health issues the same way they would any other visible disease. That’s why I write about such personal subjects.
This time I’m not going to go into too much detail about why I relapsed but I will definitely say that it had all of the usual warning signs. Most of which were flashing: I stopped working my recovery program. I stopped talking to my network of sober people on a daily basis. At first, I reverted to people-pleasing and that never ends well for any of the parties. Then I became so selfish and the arrogant bastard I thought I’d gotten rid of was back. But I’ve finally realized that falling off stops hurting once you get back on.
Oh yeah. I almost forgot. The best part of any visit to the psych ward, aside from the bracelets, isn’t when you leave. It’s right before you do. When you have the opportunity to fill out a survey. And during my stays both times, their surveys ended with the same question: “Would you recommend this unit to a friend?”
Yes. Yes I will.
If you are actively thinking about taking suicidal actions now, immediately go to an emergency room. I’ve done it twice and both times it has saved my life.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or ideations, call 1–800–273–8255.
Seek help. You matter.