The Professional Guest: Escaping Insanity

mental-illness-art-660x350-1440394337The often-quoted definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” For alcoholics, this might take the form of trying to satisfy the endless quest for satiation and gratification by varying the routine: switching from whiskey to wine, only drinking after 5 p.m., exercising strenuously the next day, mixing liquor with water instead of soda, denial that any problem exists because one is not yet homeless, lost a job or spouse or home (or lying in the ditch like that horrible drunk next door); the list goes on. The result is always the same. Too much alcohol leads to destructive behavior, whether it is confined to just being manipulative and self-pitying or being abusive and mean toward others… and not even remembering what one did or said the next day.

It has taken me some time to be able to write about the past several weeks. I needed to get to a place where I did not become anxious or agitated when (or if) I decided to write about the latest chapter in my life as Professional Guest.

It’s been a stressful year. I sold my home and all my belongings and relocated to a new state, learning my way around a new town during one of the hottest summers on record. And I am no spring chicken. Moving is one of life’s biggest stressors and after gratefully landing at my cousin’s condo for three months, it was time for me to move into another place. Rent is expensive in Naples so it seemed prudent to rent a room from someone until I could get established and afford my own place.

I moved in with a new roommate in late October whom I met through a few local connections. She had a lovely home overlooking a lake with brilliant sunsets filling the large, floor-to-ceiling windows each night. It felt like a real God-send to have a roommate who liked to walk for exercise because I have lost 23 pounds since July and walking is a great way to continue my progress in the weight-loss department. She was a widow with no children or family apart from one brother with whom she did not get along. I had spoken with her many times on the phone prior to actually physically moving in and she was a happy, jovial person who loved to laugh, had loads of energy, and appeared to be a great person to share close quarters with.

As far as I could tell, my roommate had good friends and just did the occasional happy hour as a social outing. I learned shortly after moving in, however, that that was not the case. She was a daily drinker and started early in the day. Her moods started out temperate, progressed to happy and silly, and then often became mean and abusive. I’m no doctor but I’d swear she was also OCD, ADD, and a little bit neurotic. Nothing against OCD and ADD as they are very real conditions which affect a large portion of our population and most people learn to live quite well with them. Neuroses, on the other hand, require professional help.

Needless to say, after one week, I was climbing the walls. She talked non-stop, not to me, but at me, repeating the same stories day after day after day. As a graphic designer who works from home, I would try to explain that I needed peace and quiet because I was working and concentration was required, but the quiet would only last about ten minutes and then the yammering would continue. The same story I heard an hour ago. And yesterday. And the day before that. It was all about her boyfriend on E-Harmony.com with whom she had been conversing and sexting for over a year but had never met in person, about her baton-twirling championship days as a youth, about her previous husbands, and about money….always about money; how she had worked hard all her life to have all the pretty things she had around the house and nobody was going to take them from her. She loved to talk about what a great person she was and how successful she has been.”What L.J. wants, L.J. gets” was her motto.

As it turned out, I could seldom go walking with her because even in late October, early November, it was still 88 degrees with 72% humidity. Too hot for me. I still have thick Minnesota blood.

I could not sit on any of the furniture without first putting a towel down. I could not turn the ceiling fan on high or “the blades will fly off and knock your head into Lake Superior.” I could not touch the thermostat because the air conditioner “will wear out and do you know how expensive air conditioners are?” It was 80-degrees inside the house and the humidity level was high. My iPhone even fogged over one morning and I could not read the screen. My computers don’t function well in extreme heat and humidity and neither do I. I could not sleep at night because it was too warm. She followed me around the house turning off the lights in the room I had only momentarily vacated to retrieve something from somewhere else in the house. There was no place to go to get away from her. If I left the house, she wanted to come with me. If I went outside, she followed me outside; yammer, yammer, yammer, in a very loud voice which grew more slurry as the night went on. She would not turn on the lights even in the evening and wore dark sunglasses all day and all night! It was a big step for her to get night lights because she kept tripping over her furniture in the dark.

There are people who have been able to acquire beautiful material things by living frugally. Nothing wrong with that. But frugality can sometimes border on neurosis when one forgets how to live and just counts the pennies and dimes going down the drain with every watt that is burning from a bulb.

By evening time, she would sometimes get mean and bark at me about how I “better get used to the heat because she wasn’t going to be cold in her own house,” and how “manipulative” I was, and how “not many people would put up with my behavior,” and then do a sudden reversal exclaiming how fun I was and how I brought music and joy into her life and I was her best friend! She would lecture me on everything from how I ate to how much time I spent in my room. I found myself going through all kinds of mental gymnastics trying to think faster than her so I could come up with something to distract her long enough to get some work done or have a few moments of privacy,  peace and quiet. Thank God for YouTube.

I tip-toed around the house so that I could move about without her hearing me and racing out to accost me with more repetitive conversation. Inevitably, I would have to run the water in the sink and that’s all it took. She’d fly out of her bedroom and hold me captive with her endless, meaningless tirades. She slept off and on during the day and then prowled around the house at night. Because I was awake half the night from sweating, I’d go to the refrigerator for a glass of cold water and run into her at 3 a.m. In a loud voice, she’d repeat everything she had told me that day. She was a very needy person and I don’t deal well with needy people.

She did not respect boundaries. If I went into my room and shut the door, she’d knock and then come barging in, showing me the latest racy text from her E-Harmony boyfriend, and telling me again about her previous husbands; one who had left her for another woman and the other who had been killed in a motorcycle accident. And always reaffirming how she had money and no one was going to take it from her, including the President. She only worked part-time so she could qualify for Obamacare because no way was she going to pay full price for that! (F— the government!) Always, her speech was weighted with vulgarities.

I’m no angel, far from perfect, but after two weeks, my soul hurt. My spirit hurt. My head hurt. And it manifested in my physical body. I was hyperventilating and taking way more than my usual daily dose of anti-anxiety medicine because I feared I would have a heart attack. My own sobriety was threatened because I began thinking, “Heck, I should just get drunk with her and then none of this would bother me anymore.” I even caved for a few days and promptly got sick. For me, that is a death sentence. It is a very short road to insanity.

I understand the alcoholic mindset very well. I have one. I’ve done my share of being unruly, verbally mean and abusive to some of my dearest friends and family. I’ve picked myself up out of the bushes after falling headlong into them, unable to control my movements. I’ve passed out stone cold for hours on the couch. I’ve driven drunk in a blackout and gotten a DUI and was thrown in jail for four days enduring verbal abuse from the deputies, jailers and fellow arrestees while there. I’ve been through treatment more than once, attended hundreds of AA meetings and gone through Christian courses on overcoming while remaining very, very sick. I understand how sick an alcoholic really is. I have deep compassion in my heart for anyone who still struggles with the nearly impossible ability to resist even one drink.

I’ve gone around the tables at parties and finished off the half-empty glasses of wine left by others who incomprehensibly seemed to be able to walk away from a drink. I’ve hidden booze in my closets, under the bed, in cupboards behind the cleaning supplies. For years, I managed to remain a high-functioning alcoholic, showing up for work every day and getting my son up and ready for school, attending conferences and parent-teacher meetings. But sometimes I missed out on the best times, Christmas gatherings with family, school honors awards for my son, and important job-related meetings. And slowly but surely, all the bad things I heard about in meetings started happening to me.

It is painful for me to recall these things. Because inside, I can’t believe I was ever that way. Inside, I want to believe that I’m really a good person with a good heart, hard-working, responsible, mission minded, caring and considerate. Alcohol robs me of all those good qualities and turns me into a pathetic jerk. It is even more painful for me to realize the impact that it had on my son. He worried then and still does. The only thing I can do is pray for healing for him, for peace, and remain vigilant about my sobriety so he can relax and enjoy his mother again.

As I observed my roommate descending into this type of madness it made me feel sad. She approached her drinking with defiance. (“I will NEVER give up my vodka!”) She had diabetes, high-blood pressure and high cholesteral, a lethal combination, but in order to keep drinking she would get up and walk four or five miles each morning in the Florida heat and humidity and eat a strict, diabetic-friendly diet that would have been difficult for even the most disciplined person to maintain. However, she was forgetting to take her medicines and was getting them mixed up. I labeled the bottles clearly for her. The sad part is that I could see some dementia happening to her as well, which was already affecting her decision-making ability and her health. Even sadder was the fact that she had few friends left. No one could handle being around her for very long. Denial has to be one of the strongest expressions of self-will there is. And self-will runs amuck without divine guidance and daily submission to Divine Will.

After four weeks, and many frantic phone calls to friends and relatives, I called my cousin, Bev, nearly in tears and told her my plight. She and her family had been down in their condo since late October but the rest of the family had returned home and she was still in Florida for one more week. She said, “Oh Sheryl, you can’t stay there! Do you want me to come help you move out?”

“YES!”

We looked at the weather forecast for the week and decided that the very next day was going to be the coolest day of the week (only 84 degrees with 70% humidity) and we planned for 2 pm. I packed up my belongings when my roommate was asleep, tiptoeing around the kitchen to gather the few items I had there and in the closets. I was exhausted from four weeks with poor sleep and felt I was teetering on the edge of craziness. My eyes were puffy and red-rimmed, body trembling and weak, sweat pouring from my body non-stop.

The next morning, I told my roommate I planned to move out that day and that I just couldn’t live there anymore. Her reaction was swift and brief, “Fine. Do whatever you have to do.” She went into her room and shut the door and never came out all day. At 2 pm, Bev showed up and together we hauled everything down the long flight of stairs I had hauled everything up just four weeks before, and out into her van, including my 70-pound color printer and heavy iMac. Occasionally, we would have to stop and sit in my room to catch our breath and cool off a bit. In defiance, we turned the ceiling fan to its highest speed. I didn’t care if my head did get knocked into Lake Superior. It would probably feel good in that miserable heat and humidity.

Sheryl at Via Miramar BeachWe moved me back into Bev’s house. The neighbors stopped Bev every now and then, asking quizzically, “Is Sheryl back???” It took me three days to calm down enough to sleep well. Bev was wonderful. And she had the AC on at a temperature that was actually comfortable!!! We went for walks, hiking through the Mangrove forest at Clam Pass Park, walked along the beach, drove around festively-lit Venetian Village at night, went to the Naples Pier one morning to watch fishermen reel in a large Black Drum fish, and nearly every night, jumped into the car, drove to the Moorings or Via Miramar beaches, grabbed our beach chairs out of the trunk and sat and watched the sunset. The indescribable beauty of an ocean sunset with brilliant, rippling oranges, golds, blues, indigo, violet, and silver hues that change from minute to minute has a calming effect on one’s soul better than any sedative known to man.  Slowly, I started to feel alive again.

The best part was Bev and I spoke several common languages: English, Family, Minnesotan, and Cooperation. We had conversations that had an actual point. We worked together on some projects or just went to the pool for a swim. I began to realize that I’m not such a bad roommate. I’m really pretty normal. I’m not crazy. That was a relief.

My intention is not to speak badly about my former roommate. The title of this blog, “Escape from Insanity” sounds melodramatic, but in reality, that’s pretty much what it was. It wasn’t escape from a person, it was escape from the insanity of the spirits—and that is what liquor is—”spirits” which control a person’s mind and life. It was a situation I could not, should not live with. It was exhausting, painful, stressful and felt like a complete waste of four weeks of my life. A friend told me, “Keep moving on. Remember God’s plan is always perfect, there was a purpose to your being there. Now it seems that purpose is over. Don’t fret over the moving, it’s all part of the process you’re going through. You need to give over to the process and stop fighting/worrying about it.” Sound advice.

I’ll continue to pray for her. She needs to get well. God loves her just as much as He loves me. His aim is always to save, rescue, revive, and bless. Without alcohol, she is a nice person, a good nurse, a hard worker, and funny. I hold no grudges and have no regrets. I’ve learned to listen a little more closely, however, as I look for a new place to live. As I trust God with what I have today, I know that He loves me and is setting me up for more blessings. So I expect to see even more of His provision and abundance in the days to come!

And, hopefully, I’ll find a place on the ground floor. I just can’t haul my iMac and printer up one more flight of stairs. I’m too old for this.

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