For this former active alcoholic, Intervention (which ended its 13-season run in 2013) was the best show ever. Not because I identified with or cared about any of the fellow addicts I saw on the screen. Rather, it served as a wonderfully effective way to justify my drinking. I could point to those live-action bottom-hitters and say “Look, ma! They’re WAY worse than I am!“
This trick worked well, especially on my husband, who didn’t understand the disease and fell victim to every manipulative trick a drunk can play on a loved one. Once he even noted that I wasn’t nearly as bad as these people were and that my sister was going overboard when she insisted that my problem was serious. A sly grin spread across the face of the scheming, sauced-up Susan inside me. I had him. Tighten my grip.
Essentially, the reality show helped me legitimize my status as a “functioning alcoholic,” and when I purposely decided to become outwardly “dysfunctional” (my dad died, my intake doubled and I did little to hide it), I decided the best choice for rehab No. 2 was a facility I saw advertised during — you guessed it — Intervention.
The rehab was a totally legit institution but a) I wasn’t ready to stop drinking — I was just doing it to get my family off my back; b) I picked it out myself, dialing the 800 number at 2 a.m., swigging Svedka as I chatted about my intake with a lovely guy named, I believe, Bob (FYI: Every guy is named Bob when you’re drinking Svedka out of the bottle at 2 a.m.); and c) it was March and really, I just wanted to go to Florida.
Of course I lied to everyone about how I found the place (“my therapist recommends it highly!”). Meanwhile, I told my therapist (and the majority of my friends) that I was going on a 30-day yoga retreat. To this day, I still can’t believe I did that. Like it was nothing. Like it was true. In fact, I kind of believed that it was true. I mean, they did offer yoga classes at the rehab. Man, was I ill.
But by that point, all I cared about was getting a safe detox, getting some sun and getting AWAY. And hey, if Jeff VanVonderen brought people to this place, that was all the vetting I needed.
Our schedule was packed with classes about the psychological and physical aspects of the illness. It was like high school for drunks and dust heads. I even bought a notebook, a cute backpack and they gave us free pens!Within five months, I was consuming copious amounts of vodka on a daily basis, hiding bottles in my closet, my dresser drawers — even in my shampoo bottles so I could sneak shots while I was in the shower.
I liked being in a “learning” environment. However most of my ‘hab mates had no interest whatsoever. At 35, I was one of the oldest addicts there. Most of the people were kids, really, girls in their early 20s, sent to this place by their parents. They were more concerned about boys than quitting booze. We weren’t allowed to talk to the “men,” but behind the scenes there was lots of hooking up. “Dumpster sex,” they called it, since the small space behind the big dumpster that sat right by our rooms was the easiest place to rendezvous undetected. Ew, right? Ew!
Thankfully, I had no interest, and I spent my time with a small group of lovely women who were closer to my age. Still, rehab No. 2 didn’t take and that’s entirely my fault. Perhaps if I had asked “Bob” some real questions — like what the median age of the clientele was — I would have found a more suitable program for myself. But clearly that was not in the cards. However, I did meet some amazing adult women and learned a lot about the disease in general.
I learned, perhaps, the most important thing an alcoholic needs to know about this disease if they plan to get sober: That it’s progressive, so you can’t just take some time off and get your tolerance back. (Damn!) It will keep getting worse, each time you pick up again. I chose to ignore this piece of knowledge when I left rehab and eventually began drinking again, but this was the first time I actually heard it. It was the first time I felt a slight tightening in my stomach and a tinge of worry in my heart. And it was the first time that I felt a little bit afraid of my habit, but mostly of myself.
I brushed off my fears and worries and returned from my month-long stint looking healthy, feeling great and sporting a fresh, Florida tan. I went to two or three AA meetings, decided, again, this wasn’t for me, and that a glass of wine here and there — with the people that weren’t worried for me, of course — wouldn’t be a problem. I’d be very careful this time, and now that I knew all about alcoholism, I’d work diligently with the disease to make sure nothing went awry.
Turns out, not only is this a common alcoholic hope, it’s also as wrong as wrong can be.
“The idea that somehow, someday, he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every alcoholic. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.”
So that big, blue book was right after all. Within five months, I was consuming copious amounts of vodka on a daily basis, hiding bottles in my closet, my dresser drawers — even in my shampoo bottles so I could sneak shots while I was in the shower.
And one night, sitting on my couch, alone in my apartment with a martini glass in hand, I found myself once again watching a very real Intervention. And I realized in a flash — I no longer looked very different from the subjects on that show. And when I really watched and listened, I felt quite a bit like them, too. But no. No, no, no. Not me. I can’t fail again. I can’t be that girl. So I promptly changed the channel and took another soothing swig of my liquid elixir.
I did not want to believe. I just wanted to escape.