He was famous in his field: a psychiatrist and professor at the local Ivy League university. A flyer initially drew me to one of his lectures.
As he spoke, it felt like my mind was exploding into millions of revelations. He spoke about things I’d always suspected, but had never known much about. And he showed, through studies and his own experience treating patients, how it worked. And it did work. I felt hope start to rise within me.
I asked him to sign a copy of his book after the lecture, and he said to write him anytime with questions. We struck up a correspondence, and I read every article he sent, every book he recommended. He encouraged me to write too, if only in my own journal.
A Swift Descent
Then came the crash. It doesn’t really matter why – most of us have relapsed enough to know that anything from the death of a parent to somebody putting the salt shaker in the wrong place can be a trigger. I picked up a drink, then another…and another. Soon I felt my brain was coming apart.
I was becoming more and more desperate and it seemed like nothing helped. I got myself sober – I’d done it so many times that I already knew how to survive the anxiety, shakiness, and nausea. As my head cleared, I knew I had to do something.
At four in the morning, with hands shaking from nervousness (not detox), I wrote him. I told him everything. I was worried that I would be bothering him. I felt I had no right to ask him for help. I had no money to pay for fancy therapy or rehab, and my health insurance was so minimum it probably wouldn’t cover any decent sort of treatment – you know, the kind you get with good insurance or cash.
I was afraid he’d never write me again, that my rambling disclosure would’ve destroyed my image as promising student of addiction medicine.
It was just before 9 am when he wrote back. Just two words. “Call me.” And so my life began again…
Reach Out for Help
Most of us in recovery had a hard time asking for help. On the surface, my life looked awesome, perhaps a bit unconventional. On the inside, I was coming unglued.
We all want people to think well of us, and no one wants to show their struggles to the world. We want to put on a glittering image. But the time to reach out is when we’re really in crisis, as opposed to crawling inside and hiding from our problems. When you find that the fear and pain are too much, or find yourself turning to addictive behaviors to medicate, it’s time to reach out and grab the lifeline.
This particular lifeline I’ve shared with you occurred many years back, and I’m fine now. (Thanks for asking!) Today I spend my days trying to help others, while taking time to take care of myself. It is my way of paying back the tremendous gift of the lifeline. It’s my way of paying it forward.
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