The morning of January 5th starts much the same as the days before. I wake up on my couch. A nest of empty beer cans surrounds me. The ashtray is full to overflowing. It’s cold inside the house. Just to get my mind and shivering, shaking body moving toward some sense of equilibrium I drink a beer, wretch, then drink two more.
I don’t know why I said I would go to this damn appointment.
I respect her. So I suppose that’s enough to get up off the couch, pull on my coat and drag myself out into air that is so cold, it hurts my face. I toss three beers into my dented and rust-spotted red truck. In the bed are tools for installing the DogWatch hidden dog fences I sell.
Two beers are for the ride there and one for the ride back with a stop for a couple more cases and maybe some wine, or better yet, vodka, in honor of Mom.
The engine is slow to turn over. In the foot-well of the passenger seat is a pile of beer cans, half crushed, and tossed aside. The ashtray is overflowing. I wind the window down and dump it out on the side of my street as I pull away.
I open a beer and take a long sip, then set it between my thighs. The heat starts to blow through the vents, but my body can’t stop shaking. I take another pull from the beer.
Edgewood, the rehabilitation center where Mrs. Godfrey set up the appointment, isn’t far. Twenty minutes on a normal day, but in the cold and fearful of speeding, I take an extra five minutes to get there.
The tools in the bed rattle as I pull into the parking area. I step out of the truck and kill the last of the second beer, crumple the can, and toss it into the truck. It lands next to the last full beer.
Heat blows from a vent as I walk through the automatic doors into the building. Then there is noise. I look into a large room near the entrance and some twenty to thirty people are laughing, hugging, smiling, and talking loudly to be heard above the din.
I have no idea what the hell this is.
There’s a bathroom a few feet away. I duck into it and splash warm water over my face. Looking into the mirror, I don’t recognize the man with black eyes looking back at me. He’s bloated, shaking, sweaty, and his skin and the whites of his eyes are sallow, jaundiced. My breath is stale and smells of beer and cigarettes.
I shake my hands off in the sink. This is horrible, I say to myself. I want out. My body already needs more alcohol. The pain of that need is sharp, and aches into my chest and bones.
I walk down the hall to where a large sign says INTAKE. There is a window and a woman opens the glass.
I’m Johnny Lipscomb. I have an appointment.
Take a seat.
In a moment a middle-aged doctor with salt-and-pepper hair and wearing a white coat, greets me and guides me into an exam room.
Why are you here? He leans back in his seat. His eyes narrow. He looks me up and down.
A friend is worried about me so I said I would come and get checked out.
What is she worried about?
Are you worried about your drinking?
Have you been drinking today already?
No, I lie.
He looks at me for a moment. Then he asks me to roll my sleeve up to take my blood pressure.
Your blood pressure’s sky high. Did you know that?
He checks my pulse.
Your pulse is racing. If you don’t do something about this, you’re going to have a stroke or heart attack soon.
The pain of no alcohol becomes panic as I realize my beer, my last beer, will freeze in the truck if I stay much longer.
How soon? Today?
He hands me a three-page form and asks me to fill it out. There are twenty-one questions and I answer yes to all twenty-one.
The doctor looks at the form for a moment, then to me. I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know, but you have a serious drinking problem. If you don’t do something about it, you won’t live much longer.
There isn’t any emotion behind his words. His tone is flat. His attitude and bearing is of an expert stating an obvious fact.
My brain and body are screaming for me to run away. Get to that beer before it’s too late and go to the store and drink this away. I feel sicker than when I walked in and my shaking intensifies to near convulsing as my body warms with anxiety, embarrassment and fear.
Okay. I squeeze my hands so tight that my fingers are white.
We need to check you in.
When? Tomorrow? A week?
Right now, Mr. Lipscomb. I can’t compel you to enter our program, you have to agree to it, but if you walk out that door I’m afraid I’ll never see you again.
Can you do something to stop the shaking?
We can help.
Okay, but please, I’m begging you; I’ll do anything if you could just stop the shaking.
An hour later, I’m in a hospital room in the basement, detoxing. The pain is unreal. The shaking won’t stop, even though the doctor gave me Librium. The drug makes me feel like I’m in even more of a haze. I’m tired, but can’t sleep. Every muscle in my body twitches, I’m damp from sweating so much, and my stomach is cramping.
If this doesn’t get better soon, I’m out of here, I say to myself.
I lie in bed almost twitching, the shaking is so bad. All I want to do is leave, but I’m too afraid to get up and walk out. I clench the under-sheet with my hands and literally hold on for dear life. I look at the clock and it says 1:32. Then I clench the sheet harder. I squeeze my eyes shut and it feels as if my entire body is pulsing. Every muscle can’t stop trembling, and yet I am so damn tired.
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