Rebecca was sitting in a plastic chair that had once been white but had now faded into a grayish-brown over years of excessive sun and rain exposure. She was smoking a cigarette in her favorite lavender pajamas taking a moment to herself before being corralled back into group counseling (her 3rd for the day) with the other “addicts” at the Alpine Recovery Center in upstate New York.
“Becks” was once a happy person, back when life was simple and she was free to explore her curious nature with her bestie, Julia, or “Jules” as she was called back then. Becks and Jules were always there for each other. They had met in the 7th grade and hit it off immediately over tying for first place in their middle school’s art and poem contest. Tied to the hip after that, the two of them experienced every awkward stage of their pre-teen and teenage years together.
That was the last time she remembered being happy. That was before life had kicked her in the teeth, roughly 7 years ago, prior to her husband calling the police on her for a 5150.
In case you don’t know, a 5150 authorizes a qualified officer or clinician to incarcerate a person suspected of having a mental disorder who is threatening to themselves or others.
This incident was actually the 3rd time her husband (of 25 years) had 5150’d her. The first time, she had been seen walking aggressively around the grocery store screaming for her 7-year old daughter whom she thought had been kidnapped. Panicked and frantic she began interrogating the other shoppers accusing anyone she found browsing the dairy, produce or canned food aisles of hiding her daughter from her.
Suspecting something was off about Rebecca, the store manager offered to help by suggesting they call her husband before continuing to harass the other patrons. Filled with relief that someone was taking her seriously, she agreed to let the man dial her husband’s work number.
Upon hearing the news, Matt, her once high school sweetheart now turned husband, assured the man that their daughter had not been taken by a stranger because she was exactly where she was supposed to be, which was in school. He knew this because he had dropped her off that morning on his way to work.
Naturally, the police showed up 10 minutes later and carried Rebecca off to jail. Rebecca spent the weekend in jail released after a brief psych evaluation on Monday morning where she called an Uber and headed back home to spend the rest of the day crying in bed.
The 2nd time she was 5150’d came 3 months later when her teenage son came home from school to find her, unconscious, half-naked sprawled on the tiled kitchen floor. Alarmed, he called his dad who instructed him to leave his mom where he found her and go to his room until he got home to attend to her.
Matt left the office right awa but felt a bit anxious not having called an ambulance first, thinking that perhaps she had finally done it. That perhaps she had inadvertently over dosed. He knew it was coming, as Rebecca’s mom had done the same 10 years prior, a devastating blow to Becks, which led Matt to wonder if his wife would do the same.
This incident in the kitchen predicated the need for her to go to rehab as Matt insisted her drinking was out of her control and unfair for the children to see her like that.
A week of arguing had passed when Rebecca finally agreed to go rehab. Unfortunately, two days into the program Rebecca ran away claiming she couldn’t do the “Jesus Christ, religious stuff” they were forcing down her throat as she insisted she had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder around any type of “spiritual speak” from her staunch Catholic upbringing.
She called an Uber and headed straight to the nearest bar causing all kinds of havoc before getting kicked out on the street.
Repeatedly, Matt tried to get her help but she resisted every attempt he made. Periodically, she would run away for a few days at a time claiming she was leaving him, until she would find herself in an uncomfortable situation and call him to pick her up swearing she would do anything he asked if would bring her back home. Wanting to believe her he drove every time to collect his wife, typically finding her huddled in the back corner of some random slum bar.
At one point, she had called him at work screaming insanities for not taking care of the drones that were circling their house, claiming they had been there all day and were spying on her every move.
The third time, Rebecca was 5150’d she had been found holed up in a motel room near the airport where she called Matt repeatedly, no less than 26 times (within an hour) threatening that she was going to kill herself because she was “mad as a mad hatter,” she continued to say and there was “no place for Alice at the table!”
A day later, highly medicated, she woke to find herself tied down in a hospital bed. After three days of hospital care and multiple sessions with a court appointed psychiatrist she was, once again, released –only this time instead of going home, Matt drove her straight to rehab again.
The Alpine Adirondack Recovery Center was in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest town and as she was left without any personal belongings (other than her lavender pajamas and a tooth brush) which made an escape rather difficult without her phone and credit cards she was accustomed to having.
So, she had no choice but to stay.
Thirty days into the program, with loads of resentment towards Matt for having put her through the agonizing pain of detoxing (the most debilitating physical ordeal she had ever gone through yet), she was finally sober, and clear headed enough to be able to contemplate her life and how she had ended up here.
What went wrong? When did she learn to hate her life so much? When did she become so depressed?
Sober contemplation coupled with isolation from the outside world helped her realize, for the first time, that depression had started early, back in her high school years when her parents refused to let her graduate early by taking her General Education Exam so she could move to San Francisco to the “Haight” (infamously known as the Haight-Ashbury a mecca for runaway kids in the 60s who congregated to live out their rebellious fantasies from the stifling rules of previous generations). The “Haight” as they now called it, was still a liberal artist community and she knew she could find “her people” there. People who would relish her artistic proclivities and allow her to explore the depths of her creative nature.
Back in those days she was a true creative. She loved anything to do with the creative arts, watching film noir, black comedy, and cult classics like the movie “Heathers,” were some of her favorite pastimes. She also really liked to sketch and she was quite good at it, doodling elaborate figures on the inside pages of all her school text books.
Her parents had money, loads of money, and were also older than most of her friend’s parents as they had had her when her mom was in her mid-forties.
Ten years prior to Rebecca’s decline, her mother had overdosed on sleeping pills, wine, and codeine. So, she was left with just her father who never took much interest in her as he had hoped for a boy, but instead got her.
Following her mother’s footsteps, she had a late-life baby herself, her daughter Rosie, whom she had 11 years after her first-born son, Ryan. Although she loved her children very much, her daughter Rosie was born hyper-active and as such, was a very curious child always getting into things, running off to explore her world, and giving her mom a hard time whenever she tried to contain her. Being much older now she found running after Rosie to be exhausting.
To add to her exhaustion, her husband Matt worked long hours as he was the sole provider for the family, and his job often took him abroad for extended periods of time.
Rebecca had worked the first few years of their marriage, but soon after Ryan was born, she quit to become a full-time mom.
Although she dabbled from time to time in the arts, mostly crafting with other moms, she never got to fully explore her artistic desires. Instead she shoved it down as an idle hobby.
Eventually, her mild depression crept up on her as she found her life to be exceptionally mundane. She had the same routine, day after day.
She would wake up in the morning and make breakfast for her teenage son, and coffee for her husband. Two loads of laundry followed this before she had to stop and make breakfast for Rosie, followed by emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the kitchen, and getting Rosie dressed for their daily park outing. An hour later, she and Rosie would return home to have lunch, followed by Rosie’s nap, then followed by more house cleaning and then a late afternoon grocery trip to the store to grab items for dinner.
This was work that gave her little satisfaction, so she convinced her husband that Rosie needed day care two days a week to acclimate her to other children, which wasn’t much but it gave Becks some time to herself which she desperately needed.
Those two days off and the occasional mid-afternoon wine with friends were the only things she had come to look forward to. One glass of wine would turn into two, two into three, until she could easily drink a whole bottle on her own. This soon became the daily ritual, which she enjoyed regardless of whether friends were over or Rosie was in day care.
At some point (she’s not quite sure when) the wine turned into vodka and the vodka always felt better with a Vicodin, a perfect blend of mellow disconnection that allowed her (although too brief for her liking) a few hours of pain free isolation from her life.
This daily ritual of numbing out the pain and depression continued for several years, seven to be exact, as Rosie was 7-years old when she went into rehab for the second time.
Gradually her biochemistry had failed her as the more she drank, the more she felt she needed to drink until it was beyond her control which, combined with the pills she continued to take eventually led to psychosis and paranoia.
Sitting now in her plastic grey-brown chair, exactly 30 days, 5 hours, and 53 minutes into rehab, she was able to connect the dots of her downward decline.
What she discovered was that she had always wanted to be an artist but her parents shunned a profession in the arts, as they had convinced her that she would never make a decent living doing artwork.
She also admitted (although privately to herself) that she had only wanted to have one child, but never two. So, when she accidentally got pregnant again, at the age of 45, she was disappointed. She thought about terminating the pregnancy but the guilt from her Catholic upbringing wouldn’t allow it. Plus, she knew she was pushing the limits of being able to have to another child, and she thought, perhaps it was meant to be…?
Little did she know the late-life baby would be the beginning of the end for her. This layered on top of having to stuff down her creative nature, feeling a lack of intimacy from her husband who wasn’t the handholding type of guy, brought down a force of despair causing this fragile vessel to be in much need of repair.
In time and with a new perspective, Rebecca realized she gave up on herself many years ago. She realized that if she was going to turn her life around she was going to have to make some tough life decisions.
First, she was going to have to let Matt go (as frightening as that sounded, she knew there was no way they could ever gain back the trust they once had). And, she was going to have to make peace with motherhood which she would do by making sure to include Self-Care into her daily routine.
Third, she was going to have to give up her old drinking buddy moms to find new sober friends, women who would understand her necessity to stay sober. Fourth, she was going to have to find a way of making a living for herself. And last, but not least, she was going to find a way to explore her artistic passions, which she decided would be a new business that she would create from home.
She needed a business that would allow her to use her once forgotten talents of artistry; a business where she could put her passions to work; a passion that gave her satisfaction, and fulfillment, and also allowed her to take care of children when they came home from school.
Exactly 90 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes after Rebecca left the Alpine Recovery Center, she started over with a whole new life, a life by design, her design. A life that she could love which in turn, would equally love her back. Sitting back now to watch Alice in Wonderland with her 7-year old daughter, she’s able to smile at the fact that the Mad Hatter may be delightfully mad, but she no longer is.
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