There are hundreds, if not thousands or stories of addicts turned sober and living out the rest of their lives with no health problems, mental issues, relationship problems, or any other glitch in their life besides: “When I was in rehab…..” I’ve heard that song so many times and I am utterly grateful that their tale can mostly be constructed with so few words. I am also a bit envious. That is not the rehab that so many of us had.
My release from the final rehab facility was not quite that story. I was released hesitantly, the doctors reluctant to let me go home, my wife reluctant to allow it and I had every reason about the allusion of my health. If you drink, you will die. More doctors than one told me that and a few even a bit further: Even if you don’t drink, it is not likely you will live. Maybe. Time frame? There isn’t one. Take care of yourself, rest, try to take it easy, enjoy time at home.
With those words ringing in my head, my wife agreed to pick me up and take me home. Those first weeks and months were almost a nightmare. I did not get immediately better, as we had honestly thought. My wife was alternately furious with me and happy I as alive, but made sure that I realized that this was my last chance at my life as I knew it. Any more drinking, she was gone. I believed her. She never lies.
So began our rocky future, the first morning of feeding my son, of slowly regaining the strength to move normally and somehow fall back into normal sleeping habits. Everyone said to rest, to stay away from hard work, which until that point had mostly been a point of pride with me. No one ever called me lazy, sober or not. Especially not sober.
My wife was soon frustrated with my not contributing to the family monetarily and I felt as though I didn’t exist, at all. The kitchen saved that. By cooking, starting at mainly the bottom and working as hard as I could, I started to feel like a faded version of myself.
Then came bad news: My liver had not kickstarted as I thought it would. My wife and I fought a lot, over what I don’t really know. I speak of working in a professional kitchen as though I have worked in one my whole life, but that’s not really true. I feel like I experienced a depth of gratitude that I could do something like that, be counted on as me and me alone. I had no resume, nor did I give one. Every day is the first day of my resume.
My former life was gone. My titles, certificates, accolades and diplomas all went into the attic, where they belong. I met new people, swam in a smaller circle and made some amazing friends during my life in the kitchen – the first time that I had committed to something without an escape route. Most engineers spend about 25% of their time updating their resumes, comparing their salary with others, another 50% writing technical papers that are, regardless of what you are told, mostly boilerplate, another 20% or so waiting on something to be reviewed and maybe 5% actual engineering work. The kitchen required all I could give every minute, every second.
I passed out Easter Week and awoke to a new reality. I couldn’t work anymore, not in a kitchen, not as an engineer, definitely not as a truck driver (I hate to drive, so that’s out anyway) and certainly not as a line cook.
That was agonizing. Somewhere along the way I became personally vested in our restaurant. I felt needed and my abilities were improving. Before, when I first started, still hurting from withdrawals and an inability to organize things properly in a timely fashion, I was a train wreck. For the life of me I couldn’t remember from one day to the next what a hotel pan was. By the time I left, I could manage a line for about seventy guests, mostly alone or with the company of the so called dishwasher, who would swoop in to save me from time to time. I self-identified with being a cook, feeling as if I had done it forever, but with sense enough from going in over my head, mostly.
With my health mostly shot, I went from highs to lows, emotionally wrecked. My everyday relationships became hard to maintain, I was argumentative and annoyed. Wasn’t I supposed to be better? I was startled to find that addiction had one last parting shot for me: Hepatic encephalopathy. In short, my body was and will be a grab basket of toxins that the liver normally processes. I finally have an excuse for my forgetfulness! These toxins can storm the brain at once, triggering a whole host of side effects.
Where I was once loathe to take a once a day vitamin, I am now propped on up medication unless my liver begins to rejuvenate. I have no illusions, but a sense of stubborn invulnerability will probably never leave me.
The reality of the after effects of addiction is not a pleasant one, I’m finding. But there is always hope for those whose bodies and minds are wrecked after sobriety, there is today, for example, and most likely, tomorrow. I haven’t given up on a dream of running my own restaurant, although it seems like a daunting task. I had to back out of a cooking class the other day, and it was as if a nightmare had occurred.
As a parting shot to the book “In the Weeds,” I never thought I would write an entire book! My Mom came and stayed with me last weekend to help out with watching Nolan while I recovered from another surgery and the accompanying manifestation of ascites, which is always a fear for those suffering from health problems. I struggled through the pain and haze and feel that I am once again on the mend. For all of you out there determined to get through life after recovery, there will be bad days. But remember the pain of addiction? The constant fear of sobriety and what it might entail? Anything is better than that.
Mom told me today that she witnessed what she has always called the “Matney Genes.” She is talking about our unwillingness to give up. I think that is the first time she’s just said that without it worming its way into the conversation somehow. I think she hoped I have that will to live, but witnessed that I did have it this year.
So, the song of the kitchen, with all its work and toil and obsessions, still rings in my head. Other cooks may scoff, wishing they were on Food Network, but the reality is they love their work. Most of them don’t have resumes either.