What a difference a year makes

I have been truly humbled.

Today marks the One year anniversary of one of my best friend’s sobriety.  One year ago today was a very dark period in her life.  Usually I write about motherhood and all of it’s offshoots, but today I can’t help but write about my friend.

We met in college and instantly connected.  We say to people we were roommates, but we actually stayed right next to each other.  We did all of the things that roommates in college do, eat lunch and dinner together, go out together, plan vacations together, celebrate birthdays together, and long after our college days were over, we stayed in touch throughout the years.  We both entered graduate school at the same time, her law school, me film school.

I remember when she left the city and moved to an even bigger city, I would visit her often.  We survived a blizzard together.  We took a 10 day trek across the west coast together.   I remember when she graduated from Law school, she sent me pictures of her graduation and I was sad that I missed her special day.  We try every year to celebrate our birthdays together.  She has planned every major baby/birthday/wedding milestone that i’ve had.

She moved back to the area after she graduated from Law school and like every other person, got a job, and went about the day to day life of a single person living in a city.  I, doing the same, went about my life as well.  Even though we lived in the same city, we would try to talk often and get together as much as possible, but in the day to day bustle of life, plans would get canceled or forgotten, weeks would turn into months, months would turn into years, and before we knew it, we weren’t spending time or talking to each other much at all.

So when she called me a year ago, looking for help to find a new apartment, I didn’t think much of it.  I searched some places, sent her some links, and carried on with my day to day life.  She called again, lamenting about the trouble with her search.  Again, not thinking much of it, I rationalized away her need to just talk through her emotions over moving.  I again suggested places for her to call and placated her with the standard “Everything’s going to be okay” “You’ll find something” “Everything always works out in the end”

Now, before this call, every once in awhile, I would get a random two or four AM text or voicemail from her saying she needed to talk.  But since I was always asleep at the time, I would never get it until at least the next day.  Sometimes I wouldn’t respond until days or weeks later, thinking to myself, “Oh she was probably okay, I don’t think she needed anything that important, I’ll just call her when I get a chance.”

But one day, a year ago, she called me late at night.   I don’t remember what time of day it was, but I remember it wasn’t too late that I was asleep, but late enough to be dark.  She sounded upset.  Normally, I would have tried to calm her down and placate her again with cliche sayings about everything being okay in the end, but this time sounded different.  She was barely cohesive, she would switch between manic and depressive moods in the blink of an eye, her overall conversation was truncated and she was talking about things I knew nothing about.  I called my husband and told him that I was going to stop by her apartment after work just to see if everything was okay.

What I witnessed when I came through the door was not my friend.  The person I saw was the shell of the girl I knew.  Her eyes were empty, she was chain smoking and drinking until oblivion.  Drinking away what?  I will probably never know.  My entire body wanted to start crying.  How did this happen?  How did I not know?  Why did we go so long without getting together regularly or checking up on each other?  I sat down and just listened.  Listened to this person who had taken my friend.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to hug away all of her hurt and pain.  I wanted to take away every emotion that made her go to the bottle.  But I didn’t know how.  I didn’t even know the first steps to helping her.  So I just sat and let her talk.  That night, we sat together and she eventually fell into a drunk sleep.  I called her sister, who she had been talking to earlier in the night, to tell her that she had fallen asleep and left the apartment.  It was almost four AM.  After seeing that, I thought the worst was over.  Man was I ever wrong.

The next evening, I got a call again.  Again she needed to talk.  I stopped by a local fast food restaurant to get her something to eat. I went home to explain to my husband that  I would be heading back to her place again.  I was breastfeeding at the time and I couldn’t afford to really be out late for another night, so I went home and got my 3 month old daughter and brought her to my friends house to help her not pick up a drink.  I had no idea if she had or hadn’t been drinking.  I tried to see if there were any bottles or glasses around and there weren’t any.  A family friend who lived in the area stopped by as well.  We would get bits and pieces of a story.  Still not cohesive, still not making much sense, but again, I would just listen, hoping to salvage a story out of her musings.  I left her apartment at three AM that night.  My body was weary. If I put on a strong front for her, it would break down as soon as my driver side car door closed.  That night I just sat in my car for awhile hoping I could get it together enough to drive home.  I had after all, my three month old baby with me, I had to pull it together for her, for me and for my friend.  I cried in spurts all the way home.

When she realized she had a problem, it was a conversation that was simultaneously a relief and hard to ingest.  This person who, for me was so full of life and such a light for others, suddenly found herself needing the help she so frequently gave out.  She was set to go to rehab on Monday morning.  Little did I know what it would take to get there.

Enlisting the help of another mutual friend, together we met at her apartment to begin her journey of healing.  Uneasy at the start, she was hesitant to get in the car.  But once she did we were finally off.  I thought, “This is easy, we only have a quick 20 minute ride and once we get registered, she’ll truly begin the healing process.”

Things took a turn for the worse once we hit traffic.  She began to fall in and out of consciousness reciting biblical scriptures and hallucinating.  In trying to remain sober for me, day three proved to be too much for her.  Not knowing it at the time, my friend was not so quietly going through withdrawal in my car on the way to rehab.  I know now she was most likely suffering from DT’s; delirium tremens.  The death rate from DTs — which are characterized by confusion, rapid heartbeat, and fever — is estimated to range from 1% to 5%.  When I say I was frightened for not only my life, but hers and our friend who was helping us, it would be an understatement.  To see a dear friend switch moods from hysteria to calm to hearing voices to talking to the dead;  again, I didn’t know this person.  I tried to remain as calm and collected as possible.  It took everything in me not to start hysterically crying in the car.  I felt every emotion that she was putting out in the universe and it hurt like a sharp knife in my heart.  I kept repeating to myself in my mind “Just get her to rehab, just get her to rehab” “She’ll get better once we get there.”

But the universe was trying to tell us something different.  In my rush to get to the rehab center, we got into a car crash.  My friends hallucinations got worse.  I can only make up variations of stories in my mind about the lady who hit us wondering why the passenger seemed more upset than I was, but in the moment, I didn’t really care.  I quickly took her info and set back on the path to rehab.  In hindsight that was probably the worst thing I could have done.  Leaving the scene of an accident in which I was of no fault, but I had other pressing matters to attend to.

We finally get to the rehab center and when the staff took a look at her, they knew she was detoxing.  They immediately sent us to the hospital.  The past three days of no alcohol was way too much for her system.  After our mutual friend and I admitted her to the hospital and gave them all her paperwork and accompanying information, we both went down to the hospital cafeteria and just looked at each other.  We couldn’t believe what had just happened.  I remember my mouth moving and us talking to each other, but I don’t remember the conversation we had.  I think we both just wanted to breathe.

After three days at the hospital, she was finally admitted to rehab.  I was relieved.  Her stay there proved to be a much needed worthwhile one.  She has taken this incident and her healing very seriously and for that, I am grateful to finally have my friend back.  It is evident by her dedication to attend meetings and take steps to correct certain prior roadblocks in her life.  When I attended her 1 year sobriety anniversary, all of the depressing emotions of the previous year were replaced by sheer joy.  Like a proud parent at their child’s graduation, happy tears flowed freely.  It’s definitely not over, but i’m proud to say I love her effort so far.


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