Monday, September 1, 2014

Alcoholism: A love story - Part IV: End of the line - Part I: Detox

Back in summer 2009 when my drinking habit was so extreme and the physical dependency so bad that each day was constant suffering, I reached this point at which I decided life like that was no longer worth living. So I committed suicide. Well, actually I didn't, I'm still here, but I did the next best thing: Decided it was time for a change.

Getting into a detox clinic is actually easy as pie. You go to a doctor, say you need to go to detox, get a referral to a hospital, then call there, talk about what you need for a few minutes, then call every day before 10am or so to ask if a bed is available. I did that for about a week, then the nurse at the phone told me to pack my stuff and come over. It's actually kind of amazing that I remember the daily phonecalls, as I don't remember getting the referral or packing my stuff, but I know I did those two things. Life was extremely weird for my memory back then, something either stuck or it didn't. But I digress. I sort of packed stuff and asked my mother if she would kindly drive me there, though not before I had a good number of morning drinks, because I was scared and needed to calm myself. She agreed, and off I went.

I know somehow I ended up in the hospital and some talking to the nurses was done, of which I remember nothing. I do remember I was tested with 0.25% blood alcohol, which seems accurate for my mornings. Had I arrived in the evening the number might have been a tad more over the top. I know I somehow got into the room I would sleep in for the coming two weeks and my stuff ended up there, too, but again memory of that escapes me. After that, things began to clear up a lot though...

...and I don't mean that in a good way. For alcohol, you can quit cold turkey, but there is a risk of death because withdrawal simply overwhelms your body. So it is generally recommended to use a mix of drugs to help keep your body somewhat settled so that you can quit without the risk of death. This mix of drugs does not actually make the withdrawal any less excruciating (despite the generous amount of sedatives), but it keeps you alive, and at the time I sort of thought that was a good thing. The big problem is that these drugs also interact with alcohol, so they are not supposed to be given above a blood alcohol level of 0.08%. And THAT was the really hard part. Because as you know, I suffer from heavy panic attacks already, that's why I did the drinking in the first place, and alcohol withdrawal strongly amplifies the panic attacks, which is why I wanted to quit drinking. But the time span in between the 0.25% I came in with and the 0.08% I needed was one of the worst times of my life, because I literally thought I was dying the whole time. I couldn't breathe worth shit, and I couldn't feel my heartbeat, my head experienced the strangest sensations and numerous parts of my body went numb at irregular intervals. Add some serious chills to that and you just know this is what you feel when your life comes to a slow and horrifying end.

When the time came for me to get the mix of drugs, which felt like eternity and left me feeling like a wreck, it was quite a liberating experience, because while the sedatives didn't do all that much, the mere fact that something was given to me had a very calming effect for me at the time. I still had bad panic attacks after that, but the most horrifying part was over, I felt like I was being taken care of and not left to die. That kind of describes the rest of the day after the excruciating first hours: A lot of  panic attacks, but a somewhat calming feeling of being in a hospital and being taken care of.

The next few days were more of the same but in different intervals. The panic attacks were no longer as frequent as to completely prevent me from going outside for a smoke and talking to other patients regularly, which made things a lot easier, and while my drugs were gradually reduced I got the feeling of my body settling down into a state that could be managed. The only big issue was that the doctor at the ward clearly didn't know what he was doing as he prescribed me 10mg of fluoxetine (Prozac) for my panic attacks, which I know now is the most ridiculously low dosage of one of the most ridiculously ineffecient antidepressants.

The remainder of that week got a little better every day, still with panic attacks, but no longer those extreme ones you get from alcohol withdrawal but the "standard" ones I as a person with panic disorder just have. Then after a week we had one of those days you just don't want to experience in detox, with a suffocating 37C with high humidity. That's really bad timing, nature! Unfortunately for me that ended up in my having an epileptic seizure. You know, it's not uncommon for people in booze detox to experience seizures, but when I first talked to the doctor when I got into the clinic he said it was prevented in 99% of all cases. So yeah, I'm officially a one-percenter (just had to do that reference). For me, it was really no big deal, I don't remember it, you never do. But it meant staying another week, and it sure as hell frightened my mother who was visiting when I had the seizure. They did a lot of tests on my brain anyway, and I am told that I am not epileptic and that I will probably never again have a seizure, and to this point I never did, so all is well.

Really, overall it was mostly a boring experience, so for all of you who are reading this and currently drinking heavily, but too scared of detox I can say it really isn't all that bad. The big catch really is the first day, and you just know a day like that feels like eternity. But if you would rather kill yourself slowly than make it through one horrible day, that's kind of a backwards logic. I think dying from liver failure might be a tad more awful than one day of a continuous and horrifying panic attack, besides the fact that the latter is indeed horrifying, it is over the next day and you're alive. I wouldn't want to repeat the experience, but it certainly was a thousand times better a decision than the alternative.

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