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I can’t breathe. F#$k. F#$k. F#$k. I can’t breathe! My eyes pop open as a full-body panic attack sets in. Through my haze, I see my hands strapped to the bed. Oh, f#$k. Not again. I’m gasping for air.
There are tubes coming out of my mouth. This is new. I raise my head and realize I’m in a hospital. But where? How did I get here? What the f#$k happened? That’s when I see my parents sitting in chairs at the end of my bed, near a window. The heartbreak and despair in their eyes are unmistakable. A nurse stands nearby. She’s telling me to calm down and let the tubes do the breathing for me, but I’m too panicked. I begin thrashing in the bed, trying to break the woven nylon straps that are keeping me from ripping the tubes out of my mouth. Later I’ll find out this is the reason I was restrained in the first place.
I do my best to communicate with the nurse with my eyes. I’m pleading with her to take the tubes out, but to no avail. If my eyes could have screamed, they would have been saying, “I can’t force myself not to breathe! Please, for the love of whatever piece-of-shit god you believe in, get these f#$king tubes out of me!” Unfortunately, the nurse was not fluent in eye language, but luckily my parents figured it out and advocated on my behalf.
A doctor arrived in my hospital room and the tubes were removed. My memory is blurry, but I do recall it was painful, so painful that my mother had to go out into the hall. One of the tubes was in my lungs, breathing for me; the other was in my stomach, soaking up the alcohol, pills, and whatever other ugliness was down there.
It may have looked like a suicide attempt, but it wasn’t. This was the result of a twenty-four-hour relapse.
I remember landing at the Hartford airport and meeting my parents at the baggage claim. I must have been visibly drunk at this point. I pulled out a water bottle of vodka and told my parents I had some left that I planned on drinking, but would stop after that. They told me they felt it best if I stopped drinking now. It wasn’t a forceful request, just one of care and concern. Since I still had a second bottle of vodka in my bag, I agreed and handed them the one in my hand. Then I told them I had to go to the bathroom, where I proceeded to drink down the entire second water bottle of vodka.
No surprise that I passed out on the ride home. My parents didn’t think twice about that, because in years past they’d seen me like this plenty of times. What was different was that when we made it back to their place, roughly forty minutes from the airport, I was completely unresponsive. They couldn’t get me to stand on my own. They noticed my breathing was labored. That was when they knew they had to take me to the hospital. The ER staff thought I’d overdosed on heroin because of my symptoms, so they gave me Narcan (an emergency treatment used for opiate overdose) and tested my blood to see what else was in my system. Aside from some Percocet I’d taken more than twelve hours earlier, and the copious amount of vodka that left me with a blood alcohol content level of .47 (anything above .30 to .35 can be fatal for many people), there was nothing to be found.
It was at this point that doctors had to intubate me, as I was unable to breathe on my own, and the machines would have to do it for me. They also inserted a urinary catheter into the tip of my penis so I didn’t end up pissing myself and the bed all night. This was not a first, but it’s the kind of thing you never get used to, and it hurts like hell when it’s removed.
(Have I mentioned how glamorous addiction is yet?)
The hospital kept me under observation for a day and then sent me on my way the following morning. I barely had the strength to walk back to the car. The combination of the alcohol I’d consumed and the medications they’d pumped into me left my body a wreck. And it would continue to be so for the next several days.
Within a week or so, I was back to about 70 percent and even running a few miles a day. During one of those runs where all that could be seen in every direction was trees and sky, I realized that even though my heart was shattered, even though I despised myself for what had happened, I would persevere. I would use the experience to double my efforts toward personal healing so that I could continue my work in helping others heal as well.
That promise began with my book—Dead Set on Living—my exploration of the myriad ways we humans stumble and fall and, no matter what our circumstances, can stand back up and live bold, passionate, and empowered lives.
Chris Grosso invites us to sit in on conversations with beloved luminaries and bestselling authors such as Ram Dass, Lissa Rankin, Noah Levine, Gabor Mate, and Sharon Salzberg to discover why people return to self-defeating behaviors—drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating, sex, media—and how they can recover, heal, and thrive.
by Chris Grosso