I know there has been a lot of publicity recently, especially in the recovery community, surrounding a man named Dr. Murali Krishna. If you aren’t privy to this gentleman’s media attention then I recommend leaving this blog (only to return very shortly!) to check out Kelly Fry’s newest nDepth: Fighting Back piece titled “Seeking Truth: Dr. R. Murali Krishna.” The editor does a bang-up job detailing the good doctor’s accomplishments, as well as, what led him to this point in his life. I could sit here and tell you about all the awards and positions he has deservedly upheld throughout his career. But, I’ll let the professionals handle that. What I want to do with this post is let you see this man through the eyes of an alcoholic of the most hopeless type.
It’s hard to determine the first time that I actually met Dr. Krishna. I do, however, recall an encounter from back when I was about ten years old. My old man would spend his Saturday mornings playing doubles tennis with a rotating group of men. I liked going with him because it was a chance to sit and watch whatever the hell I wanted on TV, completely undisturbed. They also had donuts. The best part was eavesdropping in on the crotchety old men lounging around, telling their creepy dirty jokes and war stories from their formative years. On the day in question I vaguely remember that as we were leaving my father saying “Spence. You remember, Murali?” I didn’t. The doc was wearing one of those intricately woven sweater vests over a polo and those awesome mid-nineties tennis shorts. Most of all, I remember the quick smile he beamed my way. All cheeks with an obvious sparkle shining from behind his glasses. It caught me off guard. It was as if he knew I had no idea who he was, but wanted me to know that it was okay. Still, I nodded and shook his hand and sheepishly said hello before he returned to telling a corny joke. I liked that he laughed more during the joke than most listening for the punchline. At that point, I must have seen something shiny because my attention shifted elsewhere. I’m sure that if I really dug deep I could extrapolate further on this recollection, but that would be a waste of both our time.
The reason I mention that day is only to relay the warmth and serenity that Dr. Krishna exuded that morning. The impact it had on me still resonates some fifteen years later. I recognize it now as something along the lines of Truth personified. Pure and genuine happiness. Even more, Murali has greeted me with that exact same grin since then. It’s like those dimples emanate invisible beams of calm that wash over everything in their vicinity. That might be stretching it a bit, but it’s the strange truth. Murali has remained a friend of mine over the years. He has seen my family and I through some pretty damn rough times. As I said in my last post, I’ve been in and out of recovery since I was fifteen. Murali has no doubt been a sounding board for my father. My old man is also a doctor, and considers Dr. Krishna to be a close pal. I know that his analytical and scientific mind conflicted with his undying love for his son. There were countless times when I couldn’t put into words the pain and never-ending gloom I was trudging through. Murali was there to explain what it was that was actually happening in a way my father could understand. There were just as many times that my poor mother didn’t know who else to talk to about her concerns regarding my mental stability. Murali never hesitated to answer her questions, and address her concerns. Dr. Krishna has been an invaluable piece of my recovery from the beginning, and in multiple ways (some of which he isn’t even aware). While my parents looked to him as a confidant and a wealth of expertise, I drew from him something completely different.
I remember very clearly the first time I met with Dr. Krishna as a patient, as opposed to a social setting. I was twenty-one and had just emerged from my first stay in detox. I was admitted to that lovely facility following an eight month drunk, also know as, “What I Learned At Texas Tech.” My drinking had gotten so severe that inebriation meant survival. Hallucinations were an every day occurrence, and vomiting blood no longer frightened me. What was truly frightening to me was that my fears were turning into an inescapable reality. Visions of disappointment on the faces of loved ones, never-ending sadness, and the confrontation of my past were all too much to bare. I wanted to die. I had never entertained the thought of suicide before. Intrusive images coupled with the quick thought that there’s nothing else left bombarded my consciousness. I knew I would never act on them, but they were a constant reminder of the awful truth I would soon have to confront. This was the darkest time of my entire life.
I decided that I was going to do my damnedest to drink myself to death. I figured that if I came out on the other side, then it just wasn’t my time and I would have no other option but to ask for help. I could go into details about my final days in Lubbock, but it would be a severe digression from the intention of this post. Somehow, I made it through the hellish ordeal. I gathered all the change that littered my dark apartment, bought one more pint of my go-to rum, and put Lubbock, TX in my rearview mirror. I arrived in OKC 6 hours later, exhausted and fighting back severe withdrawal symptoms. I put on the best show I could muster when I walked into my parent’s house. Of course, they knew something was terribly wrong. The jig was just about up. I had spent the past nine months painstakingly constructing a facade of success and sobriety, and finally zero hour had arrived. It took only a few hours for me to completely break down, and reveal the awful truth. In a moment of clarity, I told my family that I needed help, or else I’d be living on borrowed time. Twelve hours later I was checked in to the Detox facility.
The reason I have decided to include this part of my story is to properly convey how dire my situation was upon entering Dr. Krishna’s office for the first time. I was ridden with anxiety and still a bit foggy from Detox. I remember the unshakable tenseness of my entire body. Clenching then releasing my fists in unnervingly perfect 4/4 rhythm. I was startled when a hand rested on my shoulder, a gesture meant to say “Calm Yourself” without saying anything at all. When I turned around I was greeted yet again by the familiar grin of Dr. Krishna. He embraced me in a hug before I could even attempt a handshake. All of this was very strange to me. My M.O. regarding most therapy I had received up to that point was to be as standoffish as possible, combative when threatened, and withholding of anything that somebody could use against me. This was different. I immediately felt the tension drip away, and some semblance of placidity calming my troubled mind. Worries of judgement and condemnation were now fleeting thoughts. The doc offered me a chair, and sat almost knee to knee with me. We sat their in complete silence for about a minute. There was an unnerving sense of understanding and empathy on Murali’s face. I say unnerving because this was nothing like what I had come to expect from shrinks. The doc just knew. I broke the silence and began talking. For the first time in my life I opened up. I blathered on and on while Murali sat listening and occasionally nodding in agreement. I must’ve talked for thirty plus uninterrupted minutes. I told him that I had never done that before, and that I talked about things that I planned to take to my grave. Dr. Krishna then began to break down my entire abuse history. He pointed things out that I was either too afraid to address, or too stubborn to accept. He pulled my disease apart, and told me exactly what I needed to do. His only concern was that I just wasn’t done yet.
I walked away from his office, confused but oddly at peace. I knew what I needed to do, but I didn’t know how to ask for the help that was necessary to succeed. The doctor toppled the defenses I put up in one fell swoop. It would be six months after this fateful meeting before I was aware of the impact this man had on me and on my future. My sponsor asked me to write about an example of an honorable man who’s way of life is something to ultimately strive for. The first person to pop into my head was Dr. Krishna. I couldn’t explain why, and I even tried to quickly think of someone else. Every thought led right back to Murali. Then it hit me like a bag of hammers. Dr. Krishna is embodies damn near EVERYTHING I strive to be. Murali is truly an honorable man down to his very core. Compassionate, knowledgable, giving, progressive, and serene through and through. The only man that I respect more than the good doctor is my dear old man!
That realization came just about three years ago to the day. It’s very easy for me as a recovering alcoholic/addict to say that Murali has set into motion the wheels of change for the recovery community. The recognition of new medicines. Integration of Eastern medicine into Western practice. Creation of free clinics where both doctor and patient benefit. A passionate undertaking to inform as many as possible as to the true nature of mental illness. Not to mention, his countless presentations,podcasts, speaking engagements, seminars, and community outreach programs about spirituality, balance in life, and the power of the present moment. I stay aware his influence on myself, and countless others as I walk through early recovery. Keeping in mind to always do as best as I can, to maintain a sense of calm, to keep an open mind and be accepting of others, and to smile as much as possible.
I no longer see my relationship with Dr. Krishna as separated into friend or patient. I felt like a human when I finally let my guard down. I know I’m not the only one who feels the way I do. The amazing thing is no matter who you talk to about this man, their experiences are basically the same. I don’t admire him because of his eloquent speaking abilities, but that his words match his actions. We should all strive to be like Murali.
I am going to start this whole thing off with a kind of bang. Instead of going through the typical rigamarole of telling you my story and tediously explaining why I might be qualified to be writing a blog titled as such, I’m going to drop this piece in your lap and let it do the explaining for me. It’s a little foray about my recent stay in a local detoxification center. Believe me, we will get into the details in the following days, but this should do for now. It’s called Detox Manifesto:
As I sit, sweating, alone in the basement of our steamy Florida condo, I contemplate the risky hazards of my future actions. I knew there would be consequences surely to come. I stare blankly at the television for an extended period of time. I see Luke Skywalker mouthing words to Darth Vader. I inherently recognize Empire Strikes back, but I am not listening. All I hear is the cacophony. Erratic words, one after another, bouncing off the inside of my skull. “It’s been so long,” they say. “JUST F**KING DO IT!!!” Relentlessly screaming at myself, in my own head. Suddenly, I put the bottle to my lips, and without hesitation take a gargantuan swig to the count of five.
As I knew it would, the familiar warmth and bitterness cascaded down my throat, like tepid arsenic entering my bloodstream. I quiver and hold back the bile with my eyes closed. It is done. Three plus years after my last drink. I was using again. I take a breath and exhale. Complete numbness. “It has begun” I say to myself.
It would only be a relatively short couple of months off the proverbial “wagon,” but the pain returned with the same vengeance as I had left it in April of ’08. Nights spent alone, days living in fear that the nightmare would become the quick norm. Pushing away any and all I had worked for and those I loved. I lost everything I had accomplished in one swift motion of a hand. All was gone. Time to start over once more. The question now is “What in the hell can I do differently this time?” But, we will get to that later.
Yeah, sure, it’s a small blessing that I don’t have a criminal record this time. And I don’t have to go through a year’s worth of withdrawal symptoms. Does any of that make this experience any different? The answer glaring me in the face is a most resounding YES. Unfortunately, I have extensive experience with recovery and rehabilitation. I knew that once I started, I would not be able to do anything but focus on the continuation of abuse. These past six months have just been another level of hell in my life. I have literally done nothing productive this half year. Slowly wasting away, drowning in the ocean of dissolution sloshing around in my brain.
I ponder these sinister series of events while disgustedly donning a pair of hunter green scrubs. Detox. . . I can hardly believe I’m here yet again. Currently waiting for the time of day known as “Vitals.” Again, I’ve been here before albeit under completely separate circumstances. Now, in an oddly reflective moment of clarity, I can see without anger why my life has turned the page into this new chapter. I regret to say that I knew, deep down, that all of this would happen once more. Choking down ham sandwiches for a third of a month. The pills to keep my now violently shaking hands at rest. The familiar expressions on faces I’ve never before seen, but somehow know. I have been to this denizen of depravity before, and I deserve every second of it.
The old adage goes, “You will lose everything you put in front of your sobriety.” Just like every other cliché I’ve ever heard, I just had to challenge what I thought to be untrue in my infinite wisdom. Now, if you do not know the sinister nature of the disease of Alcoholism and Addiction, you might ask yourself, “Why would he do this to himself?” or “Why didn’t he just stop when it started to get bad?” The answer, my dear reader, is just not that cut and dried.
I write this while uncomfortably leaning over a legal pad on my plastic bed. This monochromatic room shared with two equally damaged souls is a grim reminder of how this disease rampages through the lives afflicted. The fluorescent lights above eerily flicker as if moths were trapped inside the tubes. For the first time in months I am forced to accept my bleak reality. I, for some unknown reason, cannot bring myself to fantasize about the world outside this institution. It’s as if God is coercing me to be present in this situation. It’s a strange predicament. Anytime prior, my imagination would already be taking off, doing anything it could to keep me out of “right now.” This time is different. This time I sit, I watch, and I listen.
The group at this particular facility are an odd mix of people who would never normally socialize. All walking zombies, infused with medication to keep the tremors from surfacing, strangers discussing topics usually reserved for the middle school boys’ locker room. Each hour that passes in here becomes more and more of a jumbled mess. I feel like I’m trapped in a room with a pack of doped up hyenas- maybe docile for the moment- but I remain wary that at any second the narcotics will wear off and my limbs will be torn from my body, then distributed to the fittest of the pack. As the late Hunter S. Thompson once said, “You can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug…” The fact remains that I knew exactly what I was signing up for the second I imbibed that first drink. I knew that once it started, I would never be able to stop on my own volition.
I now sit in this amoeba shaped semi-circle, surrounded by the seemingly continuous coughers, the constant yawners, and those yearning still for that heavy drink awaiting just outside these walls. Most have a profound look of disinterest, like the old men sitting outside Dillard’s waiting for their wives to finish shopping so they can go get a pretzel. There’s a man speaking to us much louder than he should be, like a preacher would if he were left alone with a group of sinners. Addressing our motley crew of foggy head abusers about humility in recovery. Right now, in this moment, I hate this. However, I know I deserve this.
After the meeting, I walk trepidatiously down the linoleum floors reminiscent of an elementary school circa 1972. There’s a caricature of a man who introduces himself as “Bones” walking with me. His voice reminds me of an Oklahoman Tom Waits who has hot gravel lodged in his throat. He is literally one of the most genuinely nice people
I have ever come across. A broom bristle mustache adorns his ever present toothless smile. Suddenly, he stops mid-stride, turns to me and says “Ya know, Bubba, life ain’t half bad when you leave the devil at the doorstep…” This has a profound impact on my consciousness. It was like being punched in the soul by Mike Tyson. He turned and walked away as if nothing had happened. There’s absolutely no way this frail junky could ever know the effect those words would have on me the rest of my stay. But, again, we will get to that later.
We return to our cavernous rooms once it’s time to distribute the cocktails painstakingly customized for each patient. Mine consists of a pill to keep from having seizures, one for my high anxiety, one to keep the incessant trembling at bay, and lastly one for the nausea. This happens four times a day. The scene reminds me of an image I once saw in National Geographic. It was a black and white photo of five gaunt and beaten down men standing in the soup line during the height of the Great Depression. Hardened nurses chime “next” repetitively and hand out dixie cup concoctions, one after another. They haven’t looked me in the eyes once. After years of addicts attempting to manipulate them into getting heavier drugs, I am not at all offended. I take my pills and head back to my spot, a secluded corner I have carved out for myself at the only table in the common room. It serves as my observation desk as I watch over this Gonzo Zoo.
When I sit there, uninterrupted, my mind runs rampant. The unchecked clamoring of thoughts flow like an opened fire plug on a Brooklyn street on 4th of July. It’s hard to explain my thought process, but I will do my absolute best. It’s much like standing between two parallel mirrors, both extending to a seemingly perpetual infinity. Either way you look it never ends. Well, imagine each one of those images is a new thought. The next always reflecting something from the former, but never quite the same. If I get lost in this purgatory of deliberation, it becomes very simple to be marooned on a haunted island, locked into the depths of my depressive thoughts.
The reason I mention this is only to convey that if these thoughts go untreated, these “musings” will tear through my consciousness like the planes through the Twin Towers, and with the same amount of spiritual destruction. There’s a section of the book that Alcoholics Anonymous follows that says; “The Grouch and the Brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.” Now, when this book was written in the 1930‘s the term “brainstorm” meant something completely different than it does today. The definition then was “a severe outburst of excitement, often as the result of transitory disturbance of cerebral activity.” So, imagine this “hall of mirrors,” is completely filled with resentments, fears, anxieties, lost dreams, and memories of personal failure. Logic would obviously dictate that trapping myself in that limbo of pain would be terribly detrimental to my emotional well being. Allowing these brainstorms to invade my reasoning is exactly what led to my admission to this facility.
I am am writing this in October of the great year of our Lord, 2011. My demons caught up to me in July. I had stopped doing everything I knew I needed to do in order to maintain my sobriety. When life inescapably happened and I no longer used the tools those who remain clean had taught me, my world began to collapse around me. Being one to rarely ask for help, I stuffed these disappointing experiences into the recesses of my mind, waiting to deal with them another day. It became paralyzing. The bottle was the only choice I thought I had. Remember, I didn’t drink to feel better, I drank so I didn’t have to feel at all. All because I allowed myself to delve into the chaotic processes that my alcoholic mind finds familiar and comfortable. Today, in this moment, I refuse to go back to that place.
So, instead of dwelling within the incessant ramblings of my brain, I find temporary solace in the stories meandering in this building. I relate to every man and woman who are in the trenches with me, all of us fighting for our lives. Please allow me some of your time to tell you about a few of my brothers in arms:
- There’s the man who’s detox is so severe he can hardly walk, let alone walk without assistance.
- There’s the rockabilly who is more talkative than a 14 year old girl who just got her first cell phone, but has a heart of pure gold.
- There’s the feisty tattooed hairstylist who’s no-holds-barred attitude brings an ornery joy to her struggles.
- There’s the wannabe Latino gangster who had nobody to look up to other than those prone to violence and immorality.
- There’s the crotchety old man man who believes he was in the big war, but is only suffering from delusions brought on by “wet-brain.”
- There’s the woman who never drank her whole life, but after back surgery began an addiction to pain pills and was soon searching the sordid streets for her maintenance.
- There’s the twenty-something self proclaimed philosopher who loves it when people love what he has to say.
- There’s the sometimes wheelchair bound beauty who looks like she could’ve been a movie star in the 50’s. She truly wants to be here, which is refreshing. Most of the people just want to get their families off their backs.
- There’s the man facing pending federal charges. He wakes up every morning to get more toilet paper to keep others from seeing the tears rolling down his cheeks. He wants nothing more than to see his son once again before he goes away for a long time.
- Finally, there’s my roommate. The man that I became the closest to in this wild experience. After years of trauma, including the brutal murder of his little brother, he has developed severe social anxiety. He’s my perfect foil in this non compos mentis story.
We, essentially, are all the exact same person. It doesn’t matter that our withdrawals are different, because our pain is the same.We may all look different, we all have come from varying backgrounds, and we represent all walks of life. The fact remains, we are the same.
This epiphany of unity leads me to another profound experience. I slowly come to see that I want nothing more than for my pain to stop. Do you really think that every day I was using I thought to myself “today I’m going to work real hard at destroying my family and all of my relationships…” The answer is a most definite NO. None of us burdened ever wanted to hurt anybody. So, what’s the solution? Well, I’m here and I want/need to be. The next step is much more complex; the easy part is stopping. The hard part is staying stopped. But I digress.
I’m pacing the cracked and settled tile floors pondering my next move. The staff is currently setting up the room for the one inevitable thing that gives me the most anxiety and is about to come to fruition. Alumni Meeting Night. This is the time in our stay where the room is literally split in half. We inebriated shells of our former selves, and those who’ve graduated from this humble program. They stare us down, undoubtedly remembering when they were sitting on our side. I feel judged even though I know I’m not. They chant cute things like “F**k That” when reading the rule about no cursing. I slowly realize that I only hate this because I used to be the guy on the other side. I feel like the patient in the hospital bed working hard to overcome his deadly ailment, when suddenly a doctor bursts through the door, throws back the curtain, and begins to coldly explain the disease to the 10 interns who eagerly flank him. The healthy studying the sick.
A year or so of repressed emotions can destroy a man’s soul, if allowed, weakening the psyche, pushing the acid of guilt and lost dreams to the forefront of one’s awareness. Taking time to analyze the meaning of this pain is a futile endeavor. I’ve found it doesn’t matter what happened to me or the things I’ve done to others in the past. It was all for a reason. A reason that will endlessly remain just out of my mental comprehension. I sit in these awfully uncomfortable, repurposed banquet chairs trying, in vein, to make sense of all this.
The easy thing for me to do is be angry. I do this because the disease I have tells my mind that it does not want to change. It wants to remain docile and numb. Reflection on the things that actually incense me, in reality, are some of the most ludicrous reasons ever to remain so damn resentful. What I know is that my disease wants me dead. I was afraid of this Alumni meeting because I knew I would see a few familiar faces. Of course, when the time came, there they were. Staring me down in my shameful state. This is my fear and anxiety revealing themselves in an awful concerto of emotional and spiritual turmoil.
Now, deep down, I see that I will be able to look back on this moment in the months and years to come and say to myself, “do you remember how damn powerful that night was?” But right now, I couldn’t care less. My higher power has a great sense of humor. There is no accident in the series of events that transpired leading up to this dreaded meeting. I sit in my little chair, shaking like I just ate a handful of broken glass. I force myself to swallow this God sized lump in my throat, also known as my pride. Suddenly, and without warning, I snap out of this “woe is me” pity party going on in my head, I come out of my haze just in time to hear a gentleman say “Life can always start over. The best part is figuring out how you want that life to turn out..”
I cannot describe the sheer terror I felt when the meeting dwindled to a close and the one thing I dreaded the most inched closer. The second when they give you what’s known as the “desire chip,” a coin coated with a cheap metal that is supposed to represent an outward symbol of an inward desire to live the sober life. When I shuffled up, eyes on the floor, to accept my chip, I was completely defeated. I felt as though I had failed. A man wiser than myself once said “the defeated do not get a chance to negotiate the terms of surrender.” For the first time, I know I am done. Forcibly humbled, a calm washes over me.I know exactly what I need. This program, these rooms, these people. These are the only things that have ever worked for me. I want this. Yeah, I might’ve gone down fighting like King Kong swatting at his attackers from atop his ominous perch. But, now I know instead of falling to my death in the streets, I’ll be falling into the open arms of the fellowship of recovery. That night I would sleep more soundly than I had in close to a year.
As I awoke the next morning in my windowless room, I slowly remembered where I was, and was aware of a strange sensation coursing through my body. A symphony of thought was floating through my skull, not the incessant blathering I’ve heard the past six months- much like what you would hear on the floor of the Stock Exchange just before the closing bell, but my voice is the only one present. They call this the chatter of a thousand monkeys. Somehow, I’ve cut through my subconscious accidentally to reveal truths I was unaware of before. Today, I feel in touch with those old feelings again. I felt a need to reaffix the ideals and spirituality that had lost touch with these past twelve months.
I don’t tell people this very often, mainly because it makes me sound egoic and a bit crazy, but ever since I was a little kid I’ve felt as though I was put here to do something very important. Like everything that has ever happened to me happened in the exact way as it was intended. It took place for a direct and destined purpose. So, that being said, why would I subject myself to so much self destruction? Well, that, my dear reader, is the million dollar question. I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing, absolutely nothing, happens by mistake. I’m sure you fall either under this school of thought or you subscribe to the never ending chaos and randomness of our existence. I can respect what you believe, but as I look back on the events that have
transpired preceding this exact moment, I feel there is no other explanation. Today, when I woke up, I knew in my heart of hearts that I just can’t do this again. I can’t promise that everything will be rainbows and kittens from here on out, but I want this so bad I can taste it in my spit.
Right now we’re in a group in which they explain the ins and outs of our disease. Now, I’m not saying I know everything there is to know about alcoholism, but I have been playing this dangerous game for over ten years now. Just because I have relapsed recently does not mean I just forgot the years of acquired knowledge. What I did was choose to forget everything that my sobriety gave me. Newly in the rooms (yet again) it’s easy for my ego to tell me I already know everything there is to know. What I’ve come to find out is that I don’t know a damn thing anymore. The experiences I’ve met with over the years, whether good or bad, have ALL taught me something. My problem is I think I know it all. My solution is that I need to forget all I think I know. Enter into this newfound chance as a complete layman. You can never be too stupid to gain access to the glories of sobriety, but you sure as hell can be too smart.
This will definitely be another long road filled with potholes and speed traps. If I stay open and willing enough, then maybe I’ll be aware enough to look out the window every now and again, pausing to contemplate the ever-changing landscape of this new journey I’m on. I should just be able to see the true beauty that is beyond my slowly clearing vision…
This disease washes over the people of this world like a tidal wave. An unstoppable force trudging through the hearts and minds of families everywhere. This malady affects every person in this country. The sad thing is very few want to admit that they or their loved ones suffer endlessly. Mitch Hedburg, a comedian who died of this malady himself, once said “alcoholism is the only disease that you can get yelled at for having.” Nobody who was born this way wanted to be the person we turned into once the substances entered our bodies. Our brains are just wired a bit differently. It is everywhere, and the time has come to stop ignoring this. Can you imagine the impact if every single afflicted soul were to find the solution? There would be an enlightened army of do-gooders, all looking to help one another in any way possible. We have the capability to be that immovable levee to that unstoppable tidal wave. We are legion. Maybe this is what I’m here to do. Maybe this piece will inspire someone to accept help just as I, and the others in this place, did. Maybe something can finally be done to change the perception from a terrible disease to a blessing in disguise.
More to come soon. . .