October 2, 2006, Part 2: The Windana Breather
This is the second post in my series commemorating my four-year sober anniversary this coming Saturday. The first is here.
I never went to rehab as such but I did detox twice.
The first time, I literally cannot remember what year it was. If I focused my mind for a minute or two, I could probably work out approximately when. Better still, there are a few people I could ask — parents, most obviously — who are more likely to retain specific memories of the episode. But it seems fitting that it remains lost in that dense fog of booze-addled half remembrances. Nothing says quite as eloquently that an attempt at sobriety has failed than failing to remember in what year it took place.
Chronology aside, I remember other details quite well. The place was called Windana, and it was a charity-run (but non-religious) dry-out facility, mainly for drug addicts, in grungy but gentrifying East St Kilda in Melbourne. It was near a park and a pool, because brisk walking and bad swimming were daily rituals of my time there. There was yoga and reiki, I remember that too, and the latter blew me away so much that the counsellor concluded my extreme state of relaxation may possibly have had more to do with my regular intake of diazepam than the therapy itself.
There were between eight and 12 of us, depending on the day. There was only one other drunk at Windana at the time, a delightful, hilarious and suicidal housewife on her fifth or sixth try, and the rest were there for drug addicitons. They were all drinkers too, but booze came in second or third on their list of vices (there was one guy who claimed to drink 30 cans of bourbon and cola a day but he was inside for his pot-smoking). Heroin and meth amphetamines were well-represented, and most used a lot of dope and buckets of prescription meds to round out their day. One fellow patient was so out of it on heroin and Xanax when he arrived at Windana, he couldn’t find the strength or will to swallow, and unchecked saliva ran down his chin like a frothy brook. I was riveted for 24 hours, watching him regain control of his facial muscles, and eventually transition from incoherent mumbling to ranting to complete sentences. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, which may explain why he confronted me some days later about having homosexual designs on him. (How do you say “I don’t do toothless junkies” in a nice way?).
I can’t remember his name, or anyone else’s from my 12 or so days at Windana for that matter. The staff there were mostly recovering addicts but not of the holly-roller/AA variety. One seemed too clean-cut, I recall, and far too young to have endured much of a rock bottom. That was my first encounter with that peculiar one-upmanship that leads addicts to doubt whether the life of the person sitting next to them was hellish enough to justify being there. “I stole from my parents!” “Oh yeah? I stole from my mother while she lay dying of poverty-related illnesses!” “That’s nothing! I exhumed my grandfather’s corpse and traded it to a necrophiliac for a pack of Winnie Blues!”
I never intended to stay off grog for good after Windana. In my addled mind, I was taking a “breather” and planned to return to enthusiastic but somewhat controlled drinking in good time. It turned out to be a brief hiatus indeed, and my first beer after six weeks soon turned into 12, which turned into 12 million soon enough. I drank knowingly as a drunk after Windana. I embraced the pub alcoholic’s lot as if it were a tragi-heroic way to proceed through life, Dylan Thomas-style. I sat in pubs every moment I could without losing my job. On weekends I arrived as soon as they opened through to the point sometime in the afternoon when my need for sleep overtook my need to drink — until, after a clarifying nap, I would start all over again. I made friends with miserable, boring and stupid old men because happy, interesting and intelligent people are not at pubs at 10AM — but I told myself it was some bullshit claim to authenticity. I told myself that I enjoyed horse (and greyhound!) racing, not to mention Australian rules football. I told myself that the pub was a meaningful community of good souls, grounded and real. I told myself these things, but I never believed them for a minute. It was bullshit, I knew it even then, of the most irredeemable kind.