The path to recovery is riddled with misery, decay, destruction and death — this was just the beginning
When I walked in, they asked me to place all my bags on the counter for inspection. I was nervous, even though I knew I didn’t have any contraband.
I pointed to my tiny glass animals from Texas — that were folded inside some clothes — so the intake nurse wouldn’t drop them as she searched my things. They were, after all, the only thing I had. And somehow, they made me feel.
My mind raced as I watched her open every piece of clothing and every bottle or box in my bag.
It was my first time entering the world of recovery, but I had met an amazing girl who lived this way — and she was happy and successful. Her name was Lauren and she was the best mom. Maybe I could be happy in recovery too, and maybe — like her — I could be a good mom.
I had been discharged from detox almost three weeks prior, with nothing but a black garbage bag that contained my whole life as I awaited my bed in treatment.
I walked in today with the same life. But at least I had found a better bag. And, maybe, just maybe, I could leave with a better life.
I couldn’t fathom a life without drugs and alcohol at the core because I had never lived one. Even in my earliest years, I was drinking and smoking. To live without regularly putting substances in my body was a new concept to me. I could not picture that life. But anything was better than where I was.
As I walked into my room, the staff informed me that I would have a new roommate, but not yet. They handed me a blue folder, motioned to my bed and disappeared.
The room was tiny but clean. It held two beds against two of its walls, two small nightstands, two lamps, two alarm clocks and a large cabinet. There was a bulletin board on the wall with a tattered yellow piece of paper.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
My first time reading the serenity prayer and, little did I know, I would read it a million times.
I sat down on the bed, and I could feel the plastic underneath the sheet. The bed was more of a twin-sized cot, made of a wooden base and a plastic-covered mattress pad.
Although the bed was uncomfortable and there was nothing else to sit on, I felt a wave of comfort come over me that I had not felt for a long time.
It was the same comfort I had felt when I would take a break and go to my grandma’s for a day. Well, it wasn’t quite as comforting as Grandma’s house, but it was the same type of comfort.
It’s the feeling of having clean towels to dry off with and tissue to wipe your nose. It’s being safe and closing your eyes with your shoes off. It’s knowing there is food to eat and toilet paper to use. It’s knowing that if you start your period or injure yourself, there are resources available to accommodate. It’s all the things that are normal to most people.
If you have never lived without your basic needs met or if you have never been truly hungry, you wouldn’t know this feeling. You don’t notice it because you have never been without it. But when you have, it is palpable.
Not knowing what to do next, I began arranging my small glass animals on my nightstand.
All I could do was sit there and wait for some indication of what to do next.
All I could think about was what my roommate would be like.
After an unknown amount of time had passed, the door swung open, and someone held it from the hallway as a shadow slowly moved closer to the door.
I took a second look as I realized I knew her.
“Lauren?” I asked.
She looked past me.
I knew it was her. We had just had lunch at Panera Bread a month before.
My friend, Shannon, who arranged the lunch, had given me a disclaimer beforehand. She made me aware that Lauren was in recovery.
That conversation between Shannon and myself raced through my mind as I stared at this girl who couldn’t seem to see me.
Shannon and I worked together at O’charley’s at the time — a month prior. I was bartending, and she was waiting. She approached the bar mid-shift.
“You have to go to lunch with me tomorrow and meet my friend, Lauren.”
I looked at her with confusion.
As my left eyebrow raised and I shook a mint Mojito, Shannon pointed at me and gave me the look. You know, the look your best friend gives you when they are not going to let something go.
Then, she dashed away like a superhero server, swinging her giant tray of pilsners in the air as she turned the corner.
When the shift died down, she sat at the bar. Shannon never sat down at work, so if she sat down at my bar, I knew she was serious.
I shot her a quick side glance as she continued, and pumped my wine bottles.
“I promise she is great, and you will love her. It’s just lunch, and we can go on break. Come on, Holly. We have wanted to go to Panera for a while now anyway.”
I knew this was something Shannon wanted very badly, although I had no idea why. Lunch dates were not our style at the time, and she had never cared about me meeting someone.
“Fine”, I said shortly.
Shannon ran around and put her arms around me, kissing my cheeks. She grabbed my hands, pulling me to turn towards her.
“She is in recovery”, she said.
I looked at her, puzzled.
“I don’t know what that means.”
Shannon sat halfway on the barstool closest to the register.
“It means they don’t drink or do drugs.”
I put down my wine and gave her my full attention.
“Like, at all?”
“Nope”, she replied with certainty.
I looked down for a split second, processing this, then turned my head sideways as I looked up at her, squinting my eyes in amazement.
Shannon explained that Lauren was an alcoholic and addict who had almost died of a heroin overdose, lost everything, and almost lost her baby. She had since gotten into something called recovery, which was a thing to help her stay on track. But she could not drink or use anything.
I had never heard of this before — complete abstinence.
I looked at her in shock.
“Not even weed???” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said.
Our lunch with Lauren was nice. She was beautiful and charming. Her deep auburn hair was long, her shorts were short, her shoes were expensive and she was glowing right along with her trendy golden shirt.
She told us all about her baby, whom she adored — displaying all the photos in her wallet. He had red hair and plump cheeks covered with freckles. His name was Collin, and she called him her little meatball. After the challenges she had faced with drugs, she was ever so grateful to be alive and be a mom.
That was all I knew of her.
As I stared at her a month later, my brain finally put the pieces together and registered that, yes, this was the same girl I had met at Panera — not so long ago.
Yes, I was standing in a treatment facility, and so was she.
“Lauren?” I said again, my voice starting to shake.
She walked past me, still not acknowledging my existence. But she didn’t walk the way she did at Panera. Not even close.
At Panera, she walked with the confidence of a supermodel and treated Panera as her stage. I pictured her stride and her outfit that day at lunch as I watched her inch past me in hospital scrubs.
I remembered the past glow of her skin as I looked at her pale and empty face. A blank stare replaced a radiant smile, and where her eyes had looked like oceans before, they now resembled deep dark holes of nothingness. Black circles underlined her eyes, and her skin was as pale as snow, yet almost yellow.
As I watched her feet scoot ever so slowly and with seemingly no direction, I could hear my name echoing. I heard it a few times before I realized someone was talking to me. It was Juan, a staff member.
When I finally looked at Juan, he was standing next to me.
“Come here,” he said softly.
Juan was not usually very serious, so his gentle and mindful demeanor made it clear that something was very wrong.
I followed him into the next room. As the lump filled my throat, I managed to get out three words.
“I know her”.
He looked at me with compassion.
“I can see that, Holly, but she is not herself right now.”
Overtaken by shock and sadness, I started to cry.
“What happened? I know her. She is in recovery. She doesn’t use anymore. What happened to her? Why is she here?”
He asked me to sit down and take a deep breath. I did sit down, but my breathing was short, and my heart was racing.
I stared at my little glass cat in hopes that he would bring me even a shred of the comfort he usually did, but my heart was breaking. His color reminded me of the shirt Lauren wore, the day she was full of life and freedom.
“I cannot tell you that, Holly, but I am sure she will when she gets better.”
I stood back up, feeling panicked.
“Is she going to be okay? Why won’t she look at me? She knows me…Why can’t she see me?” I cried hysterically.
“Holly, she’s blind.”
Written and to be continued by Holly Kellums
Because this is a true story, some names and details have been modified to protect the privacy of those involved.
Originally published on Medium.com