Six Days on the Good Unit: Hospitalized and Alive
by Casey Cannizzaro
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I was sick. My liver hurt. Sometimes I felt it wiggle. I thought about moving to Oregon, finding a cabin in the middle of the forest, drinking and writing; but I put my head in God’s lap and checked myself into a hospital instead.
“I don’t even drink. I just needed a vacation and this was the only one my insurance company would cover.” The group laughed. Their laughter was how I knew I was Casey again.
Twice a day, we sat in a crooked circle and answered questions like
“How do you feel; on a scale of 1-10?”
I was always a 9 or 10 because, this time, I actually wanted to be there.
“What is one word to describe how you feel today?”
They didn’t like it when I gave answers like “dope,” “lit,” or “killer,” so I always had to come up with something more creative. “Bleep,” I said, one day.
“Fetch; I’m bringing ‘fetch’ back,” Krista, the mom of the group always said. I never got the reference. I never asked. I was just happy she giggled when she said it.
“What can our community do to best support you today?”
Me, always: “Lots of fist-bumps and high-fives.”
“And one thing you’re grateful for?”
Amy, a young naval cadet with short blonde hair only wore her wedding ring on the days her wife came to visit. She wore the same sweatshirt every day. It reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting. She averaged about a four on the mood rating scale over six days so when she answered with, “I’m grateful for Casey’s fist-bumps and high-fives” I knew I had as much of an impact on at least one person as the small group had on me.
I was discharged later that day.
Like most things in San Diego, the hospital was nice. Since I was there voluntarily and not delivered on a stretcher, I spent six days on the “good” unit. We were allowed to keep our shoelaces but a nurse still had to stand beside us when we shaved and it was okay to use deodorant that contained alcohol but it had to be locked up when it wasn’t being applied to our glistening our armpits. Believe it or not, on the “not so good unit,” there were patients who’d eat a bit of Old Spice to try and catch a buzz.
I’ll share what got me hospitalized in a bit, but I decided in this story to begin with the happy ending. I haven’t had a drink in eight days. And I haven’t wanted one. I feel fucking great.
There were about twenty in our group. The hospital staff allowed us to go outside and smoke for fifteen minutes every hour that we weren’t asleep which meant about twelve hours over the course of my six day stay were spent on a patio deck designed to fit about eight people, as at least fifteen packed tight together in a space so foggy you could barely see the addict standing next to you. I didn’t smoke much but I joked at the others who smoked Newport 200’s, what I’d call it when they lit a second Newport 100, the extra long ones, off the end of their first one. Even as a writer I can’t put an adjective on how valuable that time was—on the smoking deck—but I can honestly say they were the most therapeutic twelve hours of the week.
There are bonds that are formed in very short periods of times like these that, even though short lived, can be much more important than years of one on one with a therapist. I’m sure there is research on this but my hands are still much too tremulous to pick up any device and research what that is.
Now for a glimpse of why I checked myself into the hospital in the first place. The remaining paragraphs may not read very well. A majority is random shit I wrote over the past year in notebooks that I pulled in and out of trash cans. But I suppose the disorganization of words is great representation of what goes on in my brain as I dip my toes into the scorching waters that are the deepest, darkest of depressions.
For a year, things on my outside looked great. Great job, promotion. New job, promotion. Dated, first a Russian. She was too cold. Then a cute blonde surfer chick who only wanted to see me when the surf was crappy. There were a few in between. I can’t remember their names or much else just that the one I met at a drag show was either a lesbian or a dude—after eleven vodka sodas, it was immaterial, really.
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No one knew I went home every night and chugged a good three quarters of a fifth of Tito’s. More if I was off the next day.
I hadn’t written a word in a year. Not for lack of trying. Writing was too much work in the state I was in. What was I going to write about anyway? Waiting up all night for the liquor store to flip on their neon Open sign at 6:00 am? Besides, writing a draft is like vomiting. You always have to clean it up.
My hand is no longer paralyzed. The decision to share my struggles with mental illness with the world was not an easy one. Before that, I could hide from people. But I can never hide from myself. I can’t tuck myself in any tighter. I can’t pull the covers any further up over my head. When you Google my name, the first five search results are me, stripped away, naked in my rawest form.
Words become moist but just sit on the tip of my tongue. When it’s hard to push them out of my mouth I spit them onto paper. Writing a story is vulnerability that never ends. I don’t write a sentence that I don’t agonize over. That’s what readers deserve: agony.
During the six months prior to the hospital I was barely treading water.
“Can I put vodka in a humidifier?”
Those were the words I typed into Google. What I meant to write was, “How do I clean my humidifier?” I’d already been drinking. It was 7am on a Saturday. That same morning a notice came through from the library I’d abandoned. ‘Hold available – Stephen King – Title: On Writing. Ironic.
Over time I attempted to write. Mostly garbage. A few times I opened up enough for you to have a peek into the dark side. I wrote about moments that are so dark, so miserable, so uncomfortable and can last days, weeks, months and even years. For an unlucky few, they last a lifetime.
I’ve prayed that they wouldn’t last a lifetime, but sometimes, the darkest part of me, hopes they will. I call it, “Living in the muck.” I’ve always felt more comfortable there. And it’s a place where I know I’m not alone.
Not a day goes by I don’t think about suicide. Only sometimes my own. Friends. Families. Prevention. My girl looks out for me but when you’ve been so close to edge it’s too easy to go back there. What breaks my heart is that I may never stop peeking over the edge. She’s scared. I’m scared for her. And I’m scared for me. But she won’t let me break her heart.
There are days I can’t get my mind off my mind. I want it out of me before I’m out of it. It’s heavy to breathe and I feel sorry for the air. Most nights I can’t sleep. Most days I can’t wake up. When I do sleep I always have the same dream. There’s an animal in a cage. I don’t know which side of the cage I am on. I watch myself dig a hole in the earth. Then I watch myself get in it. On those mornings, drunk, I’ll go to the liquor store for a drink. Drunk, I’ll drink it.
Tito’s, just a pint. No big deal. When I drink, it’s not at a bar. It’s not with friends and it’s definitely not in a cocktail. It’s just down my throat. Sometimes a bit dribbles down my chin. I rarely leave my bedroom. Knock, knock, knock on my soul. No one’s home.
I take a pill to go to sleep and if I wake up I take a pill that makes my eyelids fall back down. I take pills to control the side effects of other pills and I take vitamins because the pills deplete my body of everything good that happens in a body. My body needs vitamins and hormones to absorb the medications that make me sane.
When I drink, the pills don’t work. They make me forget. I have to apologize to people I don’t remember talking to, for things I don’t remember doing. I delete text messages to pretend they never happened.
I felt good the other day. It had been a while. I gave a fuck. Opened a book. Opened my eyes, my mind, my heart. Then it hit. All at once. Melancholy. Anxiety. FEAR.
When it hits its like that moment when you squeeze a pimple hard, knowing it’s about to explode. Except the moment doesn’t end. I’m the pus stuck in time. It’s not the “I had a bad day” kind of feeling. It’s the “I’ll never have a good day again.”
I’m not sure where this road is going but I guess all that matters is that I’m still on it. I know that relapse is a part of recovery. Sitting on a balcony in San Diego, with a kiss, instead of a lit cigarette pressed between my lips I can share this without shame as the sun slowly sets over the Pacific.
If you made it through this mess, again, the happy ending. Now eleven days without a drink. Still shaky, but I feel fucking GREAT.