There are no cell phones allowed in rehab. If I want to make a phone call, I wait my turn at the bank of pay phones next to a stairway. I tuck myself inside, wrestle the folding door shut, and use an honest-to-god calling card. The receiver smells like an overflowing ashtray. Every conversation feels like a spotty satellite communication between far-flung planets.

There is no alcohol in the hand sanitizer, lest us addicts fasten our desperate mouths to the pump. We are required to squirt our palms as we enter the dining room, and the foamy substance just sort of smears around and around, it doesn’t evaporate. My hands feel dirty afterwards. It seems like some sort of ridiculous, industrial-cleanser-smelling metaphor.

By some stroke of luck I have a room to myself for the first two weeks, then a woman is moved in. She’s fresh out of detox, racked with withdrawals and a bevy of existing health issues. She is thin and bone-white and haggard and she has long dark hair that is perpetually wet-looking. She reminds me of an older version of the girl from The Ring, I am legitimately a little frightened of her. She’s a smoker, and there are no doors on the closet: her clothes smell so strongly of tobacco it makes my eyes water. She can barely walk or communicate. The first night, I wake to the stench of vomit. “I puked when I was asleep,” she says slowly. She forgets to flush the toilet, she leaves gobs of hair in the shower. I tell my group counselor about all of this and with a single phone call she has me moved to another room. I feel both ashamed and immensely relieved. Later, when I run into this woman at lunch, she has absolutely no idea who I am.

If we make our beds in the early morning like we are supposed to, an unseen cleaning person leaves a small foil-wrapped chocolate on our pillow. This is condescending as hell, I think, but also: ooh! Chocolate.

Once a week or so we are allowed to sign up for an outing to Rite-Aid. We are brought there in a van, we have twenty minutes to shop. I walk the brightly-lit aisles like it’s my first time in a developed nation, running my fingers over bottles and brushes. Some of the younger girls rush to the samplers, they paint their nails and spritz themselves with perfume. They buy boxes of forbidden candy and shove them down their pants. Back in rehab, we troop single-file to the counter where an employee sifts through all of our bags, confiscating the skin toners and mouthwashes.

Sometimes people just up and leave, and it’s weird. A guy gets kicked out for using Kratom. Another guy, his insurance runs out. A woman comes to one group session and never returns. One guy quits, then comes back a few weeks later: ashen, hollow-cheeked.

I become close with a woman named Sarah. We have giggling fits together, we talk about anything and everything, we actually spend an evening weaving friendship bracelets. When she graduates, I am bereft. In Augusten Burroughs’ addiction memoir Dry, he writes about meeting his friend Hayden in treatment: It’s the kind of friendship that’s easy to make in elementary school when you’re six or seven. (…) You will never make a friend as completely and easily as you did when you still wiped your nose on your sleeve. Unless, it seems, you are forced into rehab.

Every morning, a group of us walks to the YMCA. We file past the front counter accompanied by our handlers, like children being brought to daycare. Some people play basketball and some head to the pool. Some of us go to the workout room where we lift weights, exercise some small necessary measure of control over our treacherous bodies, our restricted lives. It feels weirdly hopeful: everything has fallen apart, yet here we are, picking things up. Investing in something. We stare unblinking in the mirrors, trying to make sense of it all.

Comments

21 Responses to “Life on pause”

  1. Michelle on February 12th, 2018 2:02 pm

    I would absolutely read your addiction memoir. Or any other book you write.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Anne on February 12th, 2018 2:08 pm

    I really hope you are ok. I have read your blog for years because your writing is some of the best I’ve ever read. I’ve no idea if my telling you that is any help at all but it explains why I am rooting for you as I feel as if I know you. Wishing you all the best for your recovery.

  3. Donna Plumley Brubach on February 12th, 2018 2:20 pm

    I love you so much.

  4. Bree on February 12th, 2018 2:28 pm

    We see you, Linda. Take good care!

  5. Tricia on February 12th, 2018 2:44 pm

    Echoing the others, your voice is so important to me and clearly many other people. Thank you for your openness. It’s a salve and enlightening and brutally honest. Wishing you the best, always!

  6. Jo on February 12th, 2018 2:48 pm

    Rooting for you, as always.

  7. Pete on February 12th, 2018 2:48 pm

    Very good post.

  8. Rebecca on February 12th, 2018 3:09 pm

    I have been reading your writing since Riley was a baby….unfortunately I can’t come up with more original way to say this, but I really enjoy your writing….and I hope you are well…as Jo said…”rooting for you, as always”…sending hugs….

  9. April on February 12th, 2018 4:46 pm

    (What everyone else said.)

    It’s so strange to feel like you know and like someone so well without ever having met them.

  10. Kym on February 12th, 2018 5:18 pm

    I’m rooting for you! You’re stronger than you know. Take care!!<3

  11. Alex on February 12th, 2018 5:39 pm

    Always on your side; you’ll forever be my favorite. xo

  12. LD's Mom on February 12th, 2018 7:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us. There can’t be anything easy about reliving your rehab experience, so I admire your strength in sharing.

  13. Alice on February 12th, 2018 7:31 pm

    Linda,

    I have been a reader for years, at least since Riley was a baby, gosh that is crazy! I love to read your writing. It makes me so sad though because I just read through your words a sense that you do not like yourself, do not think you are worthy but I see you as so the opposite. You are more than worthy. I’m sure none of us can see ourselves clearly but it is so obvious to me, like why does she think she is so terrible, she is not at all, her spirit always shines through. Just wish it was that easy for us to see the good in ourselves that others see in us. It feels like it would fix all of your challenges, if you could see how worthy you really are.

    Just wanted to share, hope it is some encouragement, you seem so brave and determined.

  14. N on February 12th, 2018 8:38 pm

    Thank you for sharing.

  15. Joanna on February 12th, 2018 8:45 pm

    You’re the best corner of the internet. Hang in there.

  16. Jo on February 12th, 2018 9:59 pm

    Please continue to write. You really are so incredibly talented.

  17. Kate on February 13th, 2018 4:04 am

    Thank you for sharing. I hope it gets easier for you.

  18. Sara on February 13th, 2018 7:01 am

    I’d read your grocery list. Keep writing.

  19. Elizabeth_K on February 13th, 2018 8:25 am

    I was in a mental hospital when I was very young (13 or so) and I remember the depth and instant-ness (?) of the friendships. You are so alone, not even family nearby, and the friends become — so much. Thanks for writing.

  20. Emily Yates on February 14th, 2018 1:38 pm

    Sending you alllll the love. All of it. And so much gratitude for your beautiful writing.

  21. Courtney Belus on February 15th, 2018 2:57 pm

    Routing for you Linda. Your writing style is intriguing, hilarious and real. and I can totally identify with a lot of what your going through as I’m married, in my 40’s (and invisible now, lol) with 2 boys and I have a complicated relationship with alcohol as well.
    Press on girl…I wish you the very best!

Leave a Reply