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Hold on Tight


									Personal Accounts

Hold on Tight
Alicia M. Grochowik

T     he quiet, polite, and innocent
      girl. Ballerina and big sister. I
portrayed what others thought was
                                              was socially accepted. I changed my
                                              course of study from nursing to jour-
                                              nalism and went from wanting to be
                                                                                          A relationship that began when I was
                                                                                          too young and lasted too long ended.
                                                                                          It was time for a short relationship
good. For years the façade I once be-         like mom to wanting to be like the          with simply me, for me. It didn’t last
lieved to be real stayed attached. But        heroine in Message From Nam, a              long. With a full credit load of class-
in some ways it made me crazy, or so          Danielle Steele novel. The journalist       es, weekends at home to waitress,
I thought. Really, it was genetics.           who searches for her one true love in       and a craving for change, I stayed on
   I wrote stories and tales when             a war-torn country. How romantic.           campus one weekend. The former
young, then desperate poetry a little            I felt I had already let Mom down.       good girl wanted to use her new-
later. In my late teens came dark,            I would not fulfill the plans I felt she    found drinking abilities and single
sad, and angst-ridden notes. It was           had envisioned for me. The idealized        status. I also had a new personality
the age of Nirvana. I was a “Gen              life I would give her was not to hap-       that came with it: extremely outgo-
Xer” in flannel and Levi’s. I fit the         pen. I always felt the need to prove        ing, friends with everyone, no limits.
part. Externally quiet, a future              something to her. I always wanted           No more weekends at home or
nurse, mother, wife. Internally cre-          her to be proud. I was always looking       church on Sundays, although I man-
ative, frustrated, loud, with visions of      for more from her and more to give          aged to continue working—working
city lights and fame. I was 18, and my        her. No matter what, I always ques-         on a 15-credit course load, 15 hours
life was planned. Two years of col-           tioned her love for me. The history         waitressing every weekend, and so-
lege, nursing career, brood of three          of my mind is similar to that of my         cial obligations—all with very little
or four, white picket fence. I look           mother’s—though I wouldn’t know             sleep, except for hangover relief and
back now and I see how sheltered              until later on.                             true exhaustion. I could laugh and
and clueless I was. I did see life               So I acquired a view of some inde-       play all night. Always the last to bed.
through rose-colored glasses, even            pendence. A little more thought             Always the last to rise.
with the chest pains, aching head,            went into the change of my college             I met my future one night. While
and swirling thoughts.                        major than reading a novel, but it          drunk with mutual friends at a colle-
   I realize now how I was constantly         definitely fueled the pondering. And        giate home on the lake, I found a
struggling to meet the needs of oth-          obviously, so did some of the hor-          young man tailgating me for hours. I
ers, to achieve a unique perfection,          mones that had started to change            didn’t want him. Leave me alone. I’m
to conform and fit in. Ironically, I al-      lanes in my brain. Next came the in-        finally single. Go away. These
ways felt alone no matter who was             troduction to alcohol. Vodka. Oh, the       thoughts crossed my mind. He
there. I found constant flaws. Never          lovely throat-warming, body-numb-           stalked me, and I avoided him for
content and always looking for                ing liquid, the alcohol (which I had        weeks. Then I finally said okay to a
more—of what I wasn’t sure. The               never drunk before) finally entered         date during winter break. The date
bubble didn’t fully burst until I             my life. It showed up far later than it     has lasted nearly a decade, as luck
turned 19 or 20. And even then it             had for many of my friends. I had           would truly have it. I managed to
didn’t completely explode. That’s             been the “good one,” the designated         graduate from college and escaped
how they say it happens, anyway. I fit        driver, always to bed early, and yes, I     from parental dependency. We
the statistic. I was always an emo-           went to church on Sundays. My halo          moved away together. He maintained
tional child. Constantly searching for        was getting rusty and morphing into         a stable job, was over his youthful
attention from those I felt security          horns.                                      habits and immaturity, and had some
with. Dancing, singing, and draw-                What happened next is a timeline         reasonable fun on occasion.
ing—art was my comfort. The tor-              that if hooked to a cardio monitor             I was just getting started. I flew
mented part came later, about two             would resemble a roller coaster.            over the cuckoo’s nest and landed
years into college. I slowly crawled          From the age of 19 until I was 28, I        only when exhausted. Every minute
out of my padded shell of comfort. I          flourished or failed at nearly every-       was a scene, every day a dance.
                                              thing I did—and very dramatically at           We managed to make our relation-
Ms. Grochowik is a counseling teacher in      that. It was fun while it lasted. I don’t   ship last in the midst of some very
Winooski, Vermont (e-mail: madjack24@         ever want to go back.                       difficult years after college. He had Jeffrey L. Geller, M.D.,          At 19, I began to end the life I de-     joined a circus without much choice,
M.P.H., is editor of this column.             signed to meet others’ expectations.        and I was the star attraction. They
PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES   ♦ ♦ December 2006 Vol. 57 No. 12                                             1705
say your twenties are difficult—          graphical change in our life. We nev-            When I returned home, I prom-
growing up, social life balanced with     er moved to the ten other states I            ised change. It always went full cir-
a career, relationship, kids, basically   told others I dreamed of. Funny how           cle. And there he would be, our
the beginning of the future. They are     a change in location is the focus of          steady hands outstretched every
right. My twenties included a rela-       those in denial. This town stinks,            time, always waiting, with my dogs
tionship with alcohol, my boyfriend-      blah, blah, blah. Let’s move. For sev-        waiting for me to return. The ride
fiancé, poetry and writing, new inde-     eral months things seemed to move             would shut down and the intention
pendence, dreams, Marlboros, a so-        smoothly. I had a steady job, enjoyed         was always to change, but the urges
cial life, and complete insanity. I had   a daily buzz, and bought a home. I            were stronger. Willpower was not an
a full-time job, booze, and eventual-     was extremely motivated, fast,                option. And the changes just didn’t
ly an overwhelming urge to sleep all      planned to save the world, meet               happen fast enough. It was supposed
day and avoid reality. I loved mid-       Madonna (because I was sure we’d              to be quick and easy. A couple of AA
night TV and sunrises. My clock was       be best friends), enter politics, and         meetings, an increased dose of Paxil,
backwards. To some, I was funny,          join the Peace Corps and the Armed            and then, “Here’s to the repeat of-
and to others, exhausting. I loved a      Forces. Not to mention the plans I            fender—cheers, chug, chug.”
random swig of liquor and chain           had to completely change the dy-                 Then, after another year of a re-
smoking. My boyfriend-fiancé was          namic and purpose of the place I              bellious return to the party girl youth
frustrated. I was selfish and told him    worked to better suit the needs of            I never had, came the crash and
to loosen up. Nothing was simple.         the community. I had visions and              burn. December 28, 2003. Day 5 of
Everything was extreme.                   plans beyond belief. None of this             an alcohol binge. 5 a.m. I knocked on
   In the four years after college, I     happened, and it was as exhausting            my own front door. I was locked out
had four or five jobs, got fired only     as it seems.                                  after I escaped to party with so-
once, drank a lot of booze, threw it         Before I moved back to Vermont, I          called friends who I knew had the
up, supported tobacco companies,          had been planning our wedding to be           fixings for a good drunk and more. I
and yelled, argued, cried, stressed,      held in a year. I changed my mind.            was at the point where if I could
and became depressed. It was not          For no apparent reason, it was to             have found harder drugs, they would
good. It didn’t feel bad at the time,     happen in two months after our                have been the perfect fit. It was five
and somehow we managed to main-           move, but my family persuaded me to           days after Christmas. It was freezing
tain the relationship. Somehow he         wait at least six months. I wanted            outside, and I was walking around
survived with me. He has said to me,      everything as soon as possible and no         town like a hobo. Alone. The pain
“I knew things would change. I al-        later. By the time the wedding plan-          was wretched. My mind was wound
ways had hope.” My future—the             ning and event was complete, I spi-           up so tight, though scattered
person and the place—was saved be-        raled down from the high. I knew I            thoughts somehow moved. Racing
cause the one I pushed away that          would be sad once it ended, but I did-        heart, wounded soul. I was com-
night in college stayed holding my        n’t realize how truly down I became.          pletely destroyed. I knocked on the
hand, even while I swung from chan-       At first I thought it was boredom. I          door forever; he answered and
deliers and barstools.                    needed a new project to work on. The          opened and went back to bed. No
   Back then I didn’t want change.        project should have been me.                  hands outstretched. The dogs were
“Have fun, loosen up,” I would tell          Instead, I became complacent—              happy and confused. I smelled like
him. No matter the pain I put him         depressed and wired at the same               smoke, alcohol, and sweat. I sat and
through, he held on tight. Along with     time.                                         time stood still.
the constants in my life of depression       The next year, several months after           The quiet, calm early morning was
and addiction, he was always there,       the honeymoon, I was at more than a           a contradiction to my current exis-
my guardian angel. Eventually, I          pack a day, consuming barrels of              tence. I felt like the only person
found Paxil. The doctor said it would     Mountain Dew, a little coffee with            awake in the world. It was the start
calm my nerves and help me through        my sugar, booze, booze, booze, a lit-         of a new day—and the start of a new
depressive times. I had my Paxil,         tle weed, and at four months of mar-          life. Eyeliner and mascara stained
cigs, and booze.                          riage I went to the bookstore and             my eyes. My hair was matted and
   Finally, we moved back home. We        didn’t come home. I never made it             gross. I picked up the phone. Emo-
bought a house. The irony: on the         there and stayed with friends for             tionless. No tears. No anger. I was
first day in our new house, using a       three days. It was like a version of          blank. “I have been drinking for five
small knife to cut the lime for a cele-   Lennon’s “lost weekend.” This hap-            days straight. I feel like shit and I am
bratory beer, I cut my finger and         pened several more times. I would             tired of it. And, yes, I would not
bled and ended up in the hospital.        leave home, sometimes drunk, with             mind if I died right now.”
Several stitches later, I came home.      the intention to evade boredom and               At 9 a.m., he brought me to the
If that wasn’t an obvious sign. I         would end up somewhere for a peri-            place of change. He dropped me off
thought to myself “Hint: you’re a         od of time, usually at friends’ houses        with a bag and a hug. “I’m doing this
drunk! Have some Kool-Aid in-             or a cheap hotel. I always had plenty         for us,” I said. “You need to do this
stead.” But, I still didn’t get it.       of cigs and drinks available for these        for you,” he said. “I love you. Good-
   I guess moving back was the geo-       occasional reality hiatuses.                  bye,” we said.
1706                                             PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES   ♦ ♦ December 2006 Vol. 57 No. 12
   In 30 days in the midst of discus-         a mean, heartless person. I was sick,      tence in my life. I have given him a
sions with medical staff and coun-            and I had needed help for a very long      view of life, emotion, and reality
selors, my already obvious affliction         time.                                      gone awry. Although I am not proud
of alcoholism was found to have a               My padded shell no longer exists. I      of many things past, I fully believe
partner. “You have a dual diagnosis.          do not need to escape from reality,        things happen for a reason. We are
Alcohol addiction, bipolar. . . .” I had      hiding behind a deceitful grin or a        both stronger and our lives richer
always wondered, but I never really           bottle anymore. My emotions are            with awareness. Together, we rode
knew. I had quickly acknowledged              real and I embrace them now. I em-         the waves of insanity and recovery. I
that I was an alcoholic, but bipolar          brace life now with the help of meds       learned to live for me and now can
disorder, manic depression—it all             and avoidance of drugs, alcohol, and       give to both of us. Good thing I gave
made sense. Addiction and mental              bad decisions. Days come and go—           in. That single college girl had no
illness. Together as one. For 28              one day at a time. They do not swal-       idea that the decision to say a stub-
years, I lived with quiet demons that         low me for days and regurgitate me         born yes to him had likely saved her
did not seem to be real. I’m a mess.          half alive. I feel them, explore, and      life. And while we stand steadfast
I’m depressed. Well, yeah, and                let them go.                               and strong as individuals, safety sur-
there’s a reason for it. It explained so        He stands there, still. Since the        rounds us. My hand can reach out
much, and I had answers for the               day I said yes and those in between,       now to meet his—strong and grasp-
“why’s.” It did not excuse my behav-          his hand has been held out to me.          ing. I have survived. We made it
iors but validated the reality. I wasn’t      The one true constant, solid exis-         through.

                        Submissions for Datapoints Invited
                        Submissions to the journal’s Datapoints column are invited. The column pub-
                        lishes analyses of data on mental health services of relevance to psychiatric clin-
                        ical or policy issues. National data are preferred. Areas of interest include diag-
                        nosis and practice patterns, treatment modalities, treatment sites, patient char-
                        acteristics, and payment sources. The analyses should be straightforward, so that
                        the figure or figures tell the story. The text should follow the standard research
                        format to include a brief introduction, description of the methods and data set,
                        description of the results, and comments on the implications or meanings of the
                           Datapoints columns are typically 350 to 400 words of text with one or two fig-
                        ures. Maximum text length is 500 words, including title, author names, affilia-
                        tions, references, and acknowledgments. Submissions over the word limit will
                        be returned. Submissions will be reviewed promptly; additional peer review may
                        be warranted.
                          Inquiries or submissions should be directed to Harold Alan Pincus, M.D., Terri
                        L. Tanielian, M.S., or Amy M. Kilbourne, Ph.D., M.P.H., who are editors of the
                        column. Contact Ms. Tanielian at RAND, 1200 South Hayes Street, Arlington,
                        VA 22202 (e-mail:

PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES   ♦ ♦ December 2006 Vol. 57 No. 12                                           1707

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