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Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Drunkard's Dream

We are living the days of our dying dreams,
Now is the time to sing a new Spring.

- me, written late at night and drunk

If you're wondering why I haven't written in the last 7 or 8 days, it's because I voluntarily checked myself into an acute alcohol detox in-patient facility in Oakland.

Now 3 days after being released, I look back on my "drying out" stay as my 2006 Alcohol Detox Summer Camp,only there was no hiking or handmade macrame pot holders and the camp name wasn't some racist-sounding American Indian jibber-jabber like "Camp Wannetanka" or "Camp Mekaleka-hi-lekka Hinyho".

I've been drinking since I was 15, but in the last 8 or 9 years, it really got out of control. Back in my punk days, it was all the more expected (unless you were Straight Edge) that a 40 ounce of OE or some other wretched malt liquor would accompany you through the many house parties, shows, and hanging out in squats. That and a pack of GPCs, otherwise known as Gutter Punk Cigarettes. As I grew older, I gravitated towards vodka, and mixed drinks in particular. My drink of choice, the one that debilitated me the worst, was vodka and Collins Mix. Whenever I'd drink out, it'd be Gin and Tonic.

Of course, I've tried to quit on my own many times. I even went a few months once and hit that pink cloud thing. But of course, I eventually relapsed. Remember that Ab Fab episode when Pats quit drinking and started exercising and she leaps through the entryway of Eddy's flat saying "Oh, God I feel so great! I feel so alive"? At that point Eddy hands her a cigarette and shot of vodka and suddenly we, the television audience, laugh at Pats sudden relief to revert back to the same old lovable boozehound.

It was funny. No really, it was hilarious! I laughed. But at that time I also was still in the romance stage of my addiction. Don't worry though, I still love Ab Fab.

At one point, during one of my swearing "I'd get straight" failures, I switched to wine since it was the "healthy choice" – you know, the heart thing and all. I came to learn the tastes and intricacies of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and Port and Cabs and various wines from Spain, France, and Australia. I learned how to cook with wine (risottto and boeuf bourguignon) and which wines paired best with cheese and how to savor them. In fact, I learned how to drink wine pretty quickly, so quickly that one bottle per day turned into 2 and then 3. Pretty soon all eyes drifted downward towards the bottom shelf of the wine display (not at K&L, but at Safeway) and that wasn't what I'd call sophisticated or cultured or healthy.

Sophisticated? I wasn't sophisticated. I was Trailer Fabulous.

Don't get me wrong; I always use to buy top shelf anything – vodka, gin, scotch, wine. However, the more I drank, the more I spent, and pretty soon every thing became bottom shelf, much like the vodka I began to buy, which ironically was called Winner's Cup. Of course, inside I knew it as Loser's Cup, but that didn't deter me. I may have been a drunk, but I wasn't delusional, and an 11-dollar plastic bottle Loser's Cup could last me a whole lost weekend.

Until I checked myself into this clinic, I was completely unable to go one day without drinking, even when I was so sick from a stomach virus that I couldn't get out of bed. It was depressing. I felt hopeless (and yeah, there were thoughts of suicide). And of course, various things in my life suffered.

The blog entries for starters. Writers may make great drunks, but drunks eventually just make dead writers.

That which does not kill you is kitsch.
- written again, by me, late at night and drunk.

Frankly, whenever I'd get home, I'd rather drink than write, even though I often made the excuse that I needed a drink to start writing. However, after the second drink, the writing stopped, the Word document would close, and I'd drink myself silly listening to or watching the same stupid songs or videos over and over again. I think I've heard KC and the Sunshine Band's "Please Don't Go" 150 times in the last three weeks.

Oh my god, and don't even get me started on how many times I've watched the "Radio Ga Ga" Live Aid video clip where Freddie Mercury, in his flaming, Castro Clone, prime, rocks Wembley to it's foundations, all the while strutting like a goddamn gay peacock with an attitude. He was so awesome.

Instead of idolizing a dead, gay, British Parsi, I should've been hanging out with friends or going to movies or doing something. Instead, I had two friends; one in each hand – the drink and the mouse; a crappy, totally anti-ergonomic mouse, to boot.

I'd love to go over all of my horror stories with you, about how I was becoming the drunken terror of San Francisco (bus drivers were frequent targets), of sneaking aboard tour busses and riding them back to the hotels, of randomly jumping onto those stupid party faux-cable cars and almost falling off and killing myself, and of the many blackouts and stupid things I said and did that I never remembered the next day, that is until someone told me.

But I think I'll save those for my AA meetings.

The greatest part of doing this detox thing was knowing that, when I was released, I would have had successfully broken that day to day drunk and started off having one foot on the path to recovery.

The not so great part was being locked up with a bunch of addicts and alcoholics in one hospital wing with no where to go, attending 5 to 6 meetings a day and going through the "I'm Kevin and I'm an alcoholic", and even worse, the Serenity Prayer and touchy-feely cheer at the end that completely creeped me out (at first). Luckily, the moment I checked in I was given a heavy dose of Librium, which made my thinking so foggy it was like standing at the top of Twin Peaks at 5 PM..

I have to admit, it took me awhile to relax and get over my self-conscious behavior. The Serenity Prayer was especially hard since I don't really like to say the word "God" in reference to what AA calls your "higher power". I know most people relate to this thing or idea called God and that's who or what they reach out for help to. But frankly, I think that’s a dangerous game.

Not only that, but it's just a little too needy in my opinion. It's like borrowing money from your parents and then having them expect you to call them every fucking waking minute of the day. Only, after a while, even they will get tired of your constant calling, especially when you want something, which is why you keep getting their answering machine, even at 9 PM on a Monday night!

Frankly, if I was the higher power, I'd have Caller ID.

Luckily I wasn't the only one who was uncomfortable with the God thing. One guy substituted "Truth" for "God" and I thought that admirable. Also, I never really memorized the whole prayer and cheer thing, which must be a resistance thing on my part, since I've almost got the "We Belong Together" song by Mariah "Call a doctor, I think my ears are bleeding" Carey down pat.

All pretentions of food snobbery were vanquished as soon as I was subjected for the next 5 days to hospital food. Being somewhat of a decent home cook, I figured I could whip up a fabulous creation, MacGyver-style (isn't that reference a little dated by now?).

I’m mean, if convicts can make Pruno out of fruit cocktail and packets of sugar, I could at least come up with something fairly edible.

If only.

The first day (lunch) hamburgers were served. I'm not sure how they were cooked, but they looked like braised, previously frozen, industrialized, pre-shaped patties swimming in a pool of greasy broth and I suddenly felt the angels of Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan standing behind me, lifting me up by my arms over to the whole wheat bread and whatever raw foods were available.

So I made a sandwich of sliced deli turkey, swiss cheese, red onion, and salad greens (the only lettuce available). I mean, fuck! Even Martha Stewart had access to dandelion greens when she was in the slammer.

After the second or third meal of sandwiches, I finally caved in and jumped feet first into the hot bar. In actuality, not all of it was bad. It did send off a lightbulb though. All of a sudden, I thought "Holy Schmoly!, I've discovered the Detox Hofbrau! (Jonathan, we totally missed one!)"

This food was definitely 50s style, with vegetables that had been cooked so much they hit rock bottom and kept on digging, much like those of us eating them. There were some breaded pork chops that were decent (OK! I admit: I went back for seconds!), a Hamburger Helper-type of macaroni thing, and roast chicken that was unfortunately a little too wet from steaming too long in the hot tray. There was something like roast beef in gravy, but looked like TV-dinner Salisbury Steak, that I made a sandwich with and was actually ok, in a Tommy's Joynt sort of way.

Oh, and all condiments were in packages.

What really saved me was the assortment of fresh fruit (apples, oranges, and bananas) that was available at all times, plus there was usually fruit cocktail salad for lunch and dinner. And thank you-know-who for the endless supply of yogurt (which I macked on every chance I got), even though it was the Yoplait, super-sweet, super-additive kind. No plain yogurt, which is my first choice. But I did feel better knowing I was getting some of that healthy bacteria into my system.

Breakfast was pretty awful most of the time. There was bacon that was so greasy that it took 4 napkins to completely absorb the excess grease. The pancakes would've made my grandmother roll over in her grave. And something, was it scrambled?, eggs that were one big congealed hard lump and, honestly, I was just a little surprised. I honestly didn't know you could get eggs to do that!

At first, I thought "Is this a Ferran Adria thing? Is there a pallid, genteel, lisping Spaniard moonlighting in Summit Medical Center's cafeteria kitchen?" I wasn't seeing anything resembling foam or a deconstructed Rice Krispie Treat, so I dropped it after a while.

Oh, there were also cereals in boxes but, sorry: I'm not 12 years old anymore. And besides, they didn't even have Count Chocula, Boo Berry, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Again, I thanked my "Higher Power" that there were bananas and yogurt. No real coffee or tea since everything was decaf, but I did double up on the tea bags once.

And well, that was it. The place definitely should've had a nutritionist on board, but I was just so thankful to have been there, meet some of the people, gotten a headstart, and treated with so much kindness by the nursing and counseling staff and my recovering peers. Seriously, the nursing staff, especially the daytime staff, were frickin' miracle workers and I thank them from the bottom to the top of my heart.

However, on a sadder note, most people, like myself, in the program could only stay for the detox (5 days total) since most insurance companies do not cover additional treatment, and really, that is fucked up. A lot, I mean a lot, of people need the full 28 days to get back on track, but insurance companies are giving us less and less and we are paying more and more.

I, being quick to blame anything and everything that has ever lived or moved, would like to point out that I blame both the Democrats and the Republicans for swindling the American people when it comes to full, real, and comprehensive healthcare on demand. And I don't stop there, because I also blame the ones who should be helping us, ie., the medical groups and physicians who are part and parcel to this healthcare racket that enriches the few and drains the pockets of the many.

For example, the psychiatrist who recommended that I enter this program saw me for a little over an hour (75 minutes). He mostly spoke at me the majority of the time and listened a little whenever I could get a word in edgewise. Later, when I received a copy of the statement he sent to the insurance company, he had billed that 75 minutes out at $400! Christ!

Ok, now I realize how he can afford the 17th century Chinese chest, 18th century screen, and (proving money can't buy taste) gaudy French rococo gilded chairs in his waiting room.

Seeing that statement pissed me off so much that I'm really debating whether to see him again, despite the fact that he is a pretty well-recognized expert in his field (but $400? Please!).

The night before last, I attempted to go to an AA meeting at a place in the Tenderloin. Big mistake. It was a pit, it was hot, and it stank. It was for hardcore winos and junkies, and frankly, I can't be there right now. I decided to skip it and search around for others in the next few days (I went to one last night).

Instead, I stopped by Original Joes, had the pan-fried sweetbreads with mushrooms and onions, discovered that I love Original Joes, and walked the rest of the way home. It was a long walk home and I felt a little on edge. But the air was cool, I was sober, and as afraid as I am that I might slip, I felt deep down, if just a little, that I might have something to live for.

So, you know, I think I'll be alright.



Blogger Jacob said...

If you like the word "truth," use it. Congrats on taking the steps you have. My father is a recovering alcoholic, with over 15 years sober now. It can be done.

9:26 PM  
Blogger drbiggles said...

You go!
You're fucking brave mang. I'd say after going through that, it's all down hill from here, but that doesn't sound right.
I wish upon you great heaping gobs of good things.


10:02 AM  
Blogger MsLizzF said...

I really enjoy reading your food blog. Congrats on getting the help you need. I think I was on my way to becoming an alcholic but found pot and instead smoked for a couple of years. (Loved the late 60's early 70's) Now because I'm diabetic can't drink at all and can't eat without thinking about my blood sugar.

Enjoy you new found sobriety and at least you can still eat and enjoy what you want.

2:52 PM  
Blogger molly said...

Wow and thanks for sharing. I don't know if that is hard, but you are brave nonetheless.

Should we all post in our comments about our drunk dads? Don't be like mine. What a waste.

Keep going back, it works if you work it and all that.

PS. Only a food blogger would go into detox and critique the food.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Bacon Press said...

Thanks everyone!

I've deeply appreciated your personal thoughts both posted here and emailed to me privately.

I know it's kinda of weird and maybe a little TMI to have a blog post that mentions what I went/am going through, but when I thought about it, it stays true to what I wanted this blog to be about all along.

It's about food and it's about my (and sometimes Bruce's) life.

Most times, like most sentient beings on this planet, those two are inseparable.

And yes, Molly, perhaps only a food blogger would spend almost a week in detox and come out with a critique of the local cuisine.

But then, someone had to do it.



9:11 AM  
Blogger drbiggles said...

Hey, at least you only had to eat it for a week. When I fractured my pelvis in 4 places I was in for 3 weeks. And it was Highland hospital in Oakland, nasty. The morphine and demerol really helped though.
My mother had worked there around that time and rememberd their cook. An aged woman who cooked food as though it was 1953. And she did it really poorly. It was all about fruit cups and ensure. Yum?


2:26 PM  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Kevin, look at it this way (among the many ways you'll be looking at things): You remember what you ate in the hospital! No blackouts. Good descriptions. Even a kind of joy. You were funny, in fact; a new sort of appetite emerged.
Thanks for the honesty and a great read.
All the best to you.

(Hey, wait a second. Does this explain why you've been so snarky to me in the past? And you're going to be all sweetness and light from now on? Nah... Hope not.)

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I went to that same place and the food did indeed suck. Not that you will ever need to go here (fingers crossed) but Serenity Knolls in Marin County has great food. You can even help cook it.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

I came across your blog by mistake and was fascinated. I am 73 years old & have just celebrated 17 years sober thanks to AA. I do not believe in a man-made religious God but I have a strong spiritual life based on the belief that there is a power out there and that it's not me. I've seen too many miracles occur over the past sober years not to believe in that, at least. I do not say the "Lord's Prayer" at meetings but fing The Serenity Prayer, especially in the full long version, to be very helpful.
All the best to you and keep on the path...it's a simple program but it sure isn't easy.
You are courageous. Ginnie

6:46 PM  
Blogger Bacon Press said...

Thanks Ginnie! I appreciate your wisdom and words of encouragement! And congratulations to you as well for your 17 years!

I actually have been listening more to the inherent wisdom in the Serenity Prayer and paying less attention to the fact it's a prayer or that it was written by Reinhold Neibuhr for a specific church service. I've been thinking of it more as a something to keep in mind when encountering adversity - especially "accepting the things one cannot change" part.

Anonymous - Thanks for your well-wishes, also. However, I hope I never get to experience the food in Serenity Knolls, if you catch my drift.


10:42 AM  
Blogger mingerspice said...

That was a great post about what must have been a difficult experience to go through (and process later). Thank you for sharing that with the blog-reading world (blogoreadosphere?).

Amusing and moving.

I laughed, I cried, I hurled (all at the same time when you talked about the non-Ferria eggs).

5:19 AM  

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